A project aimed at curbing obesity has found that environmental and ecological interventions intended to encourage healthy lifestyles have led to better weight maintenance and a reduction in blood pressure risk.
Ron Goetzel, research professor of health policy and management at the Rollins School of Public Health, who led the project, said in an interview with the Wheel
that these “modest results” were achieved through a series of “very, very inexpensive” interventions.
“[This experiment] is aimed at curbing the growth of overweight and obesity among workers,” Goetzel said in a University press release earlier this week. “The idea behind this is to introduce low-cost interventions.”
Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and headed by Emory, this experiment encouraged individuals to make positive alterations in their lifestyles by offering healthier alternatives in vending machines, providing a variety of new choices on dining menus and encouraging exercise with new walkways and signs that urge individuals to take the stairs whenever possible. Other programs introduced included access to health education materials, leadership training, individual health assessments and consultations and weight management courses.
The interventions, collectively known as LightenUP, focused on decreasing the number of calories consumed and increasing the number of calories used. The study takes place across 12 locations at the Dow Chemical Company. Nine of these locations act as treatment sites and the remaining three as control sites. While the treatment sites received every resource the project had to offer, the control sites were only given a core health promotion program geared towards improving employees’ health behaviors.
Now analyzing data from the second year of the five-year study, Goetzel said he is excited about his project and is looking forward to results but will maintain an unassuming attitude.
“We’re very conservative when looking at results,” he explained. “We’re looking for about 1 to 5 percent improvement right now.”
Goetzel said the concept of the study was being applied in other settings and experiments as well.
“Several research centers across the country are testing this idea with different types of workers and in various industries,” he said in the press release.
Obesity is a “very pressing health care problem” because it is directly related to so many chronic diseases, Goetzel said. He said that about two-thirds of Americans are obese today and that rates are increasing dramatically over the years.
Goetzel added that he and his team are keeping their study within the workplace setting because of the large number of workers.
“Our focus is on employees and employers, which make up a large portion of the population,” he said. “If we can make a difference here, it’s a good start.”
—Contact Alice Chen