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Waist management at work

U wellness programs offer savings

By Susan Wiese

Wellness program pic

February 23, 2010

What do the Chunkee Monkees, Swedish Meatballs, Shining Examples, and Better Bod Squad have in common?

They're four-member teams made up of individuals who have a sincere desire to lose weight and keep pounds off. Along with 18 other teams who joined last semester's Losing Battle Challenge at UMD, they've collectively lost more than 312 pounds in just 10 weeks.

This week, the teams are in the process of reorganizing and renaming themselves for the second Losing Battle Challenge. During a Feb. 22 weigh-in at the UMD Employee Health and Wellness Center in Kirby Hall, the Better Bod Squad was back, competing not as a foursome but as two duos: the Better Bod Squad Southern Lites and the Better Bod Squad North Stars. Over the next 10 weeks, 30 teams will compete to see who will lose the largest percentage of body weight and walk away with cash prizes and gifts. 
Last fall one of the Better Bod Squad members ranked among the top losers. She's reentering the challenge weighing 15.2 pounds less than she did four-and-a-half months ago, and she's determined to shed even more weight.
"The challenge made me more accountable because I was being held true to my weight-loss and fitness goals. I don't like to exercise. Yet, when the Squad began walking as a group, I had to answer to someone other than myself and I'd go walking because I didn't want to let my teammates down," she said.

Her partner in the quest for weight reduction has re-upped, too, because the rigor of the challenge has given her a more balanced lifestyle.

"I can always lose the weight, but then I really struggle to keep the pounds off," she said.

This time around, she aims to keep off the eight pounds she lost by attending weekly Health Improvement Programs, brown-bag lunch sessions to learn more about weight management strategies.

"The Losing Battle Challenge is not just a race to get skinny," says Rachel Gilbertson, the on-site health coach behind UMD's friendly competition. "It is really about improved health. We help participants set realistic goals and want them to make healthy behaviors a habit."

During the last challenge, Gilbertson saw participants treat one another to freshly-cut carrot sticks in lieu of donuts or brownies. She anticipates that she'll see this supportive gesture repeat itself as participants exchange "lite" snacks along with stories about their personal struggles to eat less and exercise more.

"When people feel connected to one another, they want to help each other succeed. I believe wellness, like sickness, can be contagious," says Gilbertson.

Waist management University-wide
What appears to be catching on not only on the Duluth campus but also across the University system is the newest offering from the Wellness Program: money back for on-campus weight-loss programs.

Employees and their spouses or same-sex domestic partners who are covered by the UPlan Medical Program can get back 100 percent of the up-front costs of an on-campus Weight Watchers® at Work program if the participants attend 80-percent of the program's meetings. On the Twin Cities campus, faculty and staff have another program in which to enroll. As an alternative to Weight Watchers®, UMTC employees and their spouses/SSDPs may participate in the Create Your Weight program from the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. The participants will be reimbursed 100 percent of their enrollment fees if they attend 80-percent of the classes.

University Wellness Program Coordinator Jill Thielen is pleasantly surprised with the response to the new incentives. "The classes we have announced are filling up. In fact, we have been adding sessions of the Create Your Weight program," she says.

The Weight Watchers® at Work program is proving popular at UMD. According to Wellness Coordinator Lita Wallace, "People are enthusiastic about this on-campus weight-loss program, and when combined with the Losing Battle Challenge, the two initiatives can really help a person achieve his or her wellness goals.”

University health plans manager Karen Chapin welcomes strong employee demand for weight-loss opportunities.  

"Since the inception of the Wellness Program in 2006, when we asked employees to gauge their overall health by taking the annual wellness assessment, we’ve seen University employees become more physically active. They're eating better and smoking less, and they're taking steps to remedy known risk factors for disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol," says Chapin.

Even so, two out of three University employees are overweight based on anonymous data gleaned from body measurements that are self-reported in the wellness assessment. By adding a weight-loss component to the Wellness Program's portfolio of incentives, the program seeks to find what may be a missing ingredient in a fairly comprehensive approach to employee health and longevity.

Back at UMD where the element of friendly competition has been thrown into the mix, the recipe for successful weight loss might just be getting better. There are indications that the spirit and fun of the competition are reenergizing participants to find the willpower it takes to slim down. As one participant put it, "It's time to come out of hibernation, and get out of my winter funk."

For more information, see the Losing Battle Challenge.