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Weight loss at work gets results

Cindy Harboldt
The weight loss program that Harboldt takes part in is just part of Rogue's larger Preventive Care Incentive campaign.

May 18, 2011 - Offering weight loss programs at work allows employees to save time and support one another while engaging in one of the most important — and challenging — efforts to improve health.

When the Oregon Educators Benefit Board invited its members to partner with Weight Watchers in a work-based weight loss program last year, dozens of employers stepped up. One was Rogue Community College, with three campuses in Josephine and Jackson counties. Rogue offered the program as a free health benefit to employees through its ODS insurance plan.

During the first 13-week session, 46 participating Rogue employees lost an average of 10 pounds apiece.

"We were able to support each other daily," says Cindy Harboldt, a participant who works in the college president's office and helped coordinate the program on Rogue's Redwood Campus in Grants Pass.

As Oregon transforms its health system, a key focus is prevention to improve health, lower costs and make better use of resources. Obesity causes an estimated $75 billion a year in medical spending nationwide, and $781 million in Oregon, not counting indirect costs such as decreased productivity and absenteeism, a national study reported in 2004.

The Rogue program encourages exercise and portion control, rather than banning certain foods. Participants weigh in and attend one half-hour class a week. To join the program at no cost, they must show up for 10 of the 13 weekly sessions. The goal is to lose weight gradually and steadily through life changes — and keep it off, instead of "yo-yo dieting."

A key aspect of work-site wellness is that participants have the encouragement of coworkers. "We're all in the same boat," Harboldt says.

Harboldt lost 30 pounds and is now within sight of the targeted weight for someone of her height.

The weight loss program is part of Rogue's larger Preventive Care Incentive campaign, including a worksite Health Risk Assessment based on a blood test and questionnaire. Employees who get recommended preventive tests — such as eye exam, dental checkup, mammogram or colonoscopy — are eligible for prize drawings. The college publishes and distributes a Wellness Newsletter with recipes, articles and suggestions for healthful living.

"It's a great benefit," Harboldt says. "It's way more than just losing weight." Participants report that weight loss has helped them lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce their need for prescription drugs.