After 40 years of yo-yo dieting, Kathy Knoll was beyond frustrated. Every time she lost a few pounds, she’d put it right back on – and then some. This May, Knoll, a course administrator in the Department of Psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tried something new: working out at work.
Within six months she’d shed 15 pounds and kept it off, thanks to a Rutgers program called LIFT UP. Enrolling in LIFT UP differs from dieting, says Knoll, because it is not "something that you go on and off." Instead, the program inspires a change in lifestyle.
"It's going to become second nature to me," she says. "That's my goal - I'm going to keep at it, and I'm not going to give up."
Launched in January at offices in Newark and Piscataway, LIFT UP (Lifestyle Intervention For Total Health – a University Program) is one of a growing number of workplace weight management programs cropping up across the country to combat rising obesity levels. Recent statistics show 62.8 percent of all American adults are overweight or obese.
Initially offered to employees and students at the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, LIFT UP is now open to any employee or student at Rutgers. Participants in the program must have a body mass index of more than 25, classifying them as overweight.
Knoll’s success through LIFT UP is not singular.
A recent study shows that students, faculty and staff who participated in LIFT UP lost an average of 3.5 pounds in the first 12 weeks and a total of 9 to 10 pounds over 26 weeks."That's a statistically significant change in body weight," said Diane Rigassio Radler, director of the Institute for Nutrition Interventions at Rutgers School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) in Newark, which sponsored the study.
Among people who are overweight or obese, a 5 to 10 percent weight loss is considered clinically relevant, says Radler, since it reduces the risk of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A key factor in the LIFT UP’s success rate is its location. "We know that many people in the United States spend many hours of the day at work, so the workplace is an ideal environment in which to promote healthy dining choices and healthy behaviors," says Radler, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition.
And working out with a buddy beats going it alone. "I'm doing it with a co-worker of mine so we encourage each other," says Susan Bosakowski, a counselor at Rutgers' Acute Partial Hospital in Piscataway, who’s lost 18 pounds in the program.
Once enrolled, employees and students meet one-on-one with registered dietitian Rachel Griehs. During the next three months, they attend Griehs’ weekly lunchtime sessions on topics ranging from reading food labels to increasing physical activity.
"I was guilty of mindless eating," Knoll says of her take-away from the informational sessions. "When I would be making my husband's lunch, I would be putting in a couple of cookies and eating a couple."Since joining the program, Knoll has been inspired to make subtle changes in her diet, snacking on cut-up vegetables, low-fat string cheese and hummus. She also works out on a treadmill or in front of an exercise video for 30 to 60 minutes daily.
Participants' weight, body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol are measured again during follow-up appointments with Griehs after 12 weeks, 26 weeks, one year, and two years. Of the 128 employees enrolled in the first three LIFT UP groups, 60 percent returned for the 12-week appointment with Griehs, Radler says.
In addition to improving the health of employees, LIFT UP can greatly benefit employers.
"Because of workplace weight management programs, employers are seeing less sick days, and ultimately they will not have to spend as much money on medical insurance," says Griehs. "People will not have to take all the blood pressure medicines and cholesterol-lowering medicine as they did before because of the changes they've made in their eating habits and the weight that they've lost."