What Works to Impact Obesity? Wellness Programs with These 4 Characteristics

Feb 24, 2022 8:00:00 AM

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As obesity continues to increase in the U.S. – currently about 40% of the population – the science behind what works to bring about and maintain weight loss is under intense debate. Does it require following a particular diet or exercise regimen? Is it a result of willpower alone? Or, does it involve a particular pharmaceutical drug or medical procedure? You’ll find experts who adhere to each of those strategies, which makes it challenging for employers seeking effective weight loss programs to offer their employees.

At Yes Health, a digital health platform for lifestyle and behavior change, we’ve had a front-row seat to what truly works to help people transform their health. Here are four characteristics of effective weight loss initiatives, supported by health and behavioral science as well as the real-life experiences of our Healthy Habit Heroes:

  1. Emphasis on nutrition over specific diet 

Many dietary approaches successfully impact weight, including the Mediterranean diet, intermittent fasting and plant-based eating. However, ultimately what works best are healthy eating patterns that are sustainable for life. That’s why programs like Yes Health work with your employees to determine what foods they already eat, enjoy and can afford, and then work within those parameters to help make every meal a bit healthier and more nutritious. If employees want to use a particular dietary approach, we can support them in that effort, but it’s not a necessary component of their success.

Consider the example of a burger: One person may be happy to switch to eating a lean veggie burger, but another simply wants a regular hamburger. In both cases, our coaches may focus on adjusting portion size – maybe cutting the burger in half and eating the other half for lunch the next day. Or, they may suggest filling the rest of the plate with fruits and vegetables rather than french fries, or skipping the bun to avoid empty carbs.

With Yes Health, employees learn these types of strategies to make meals both healthier and more satisfying, and that empowers them to make healthier choices with every meal going forward. Within 13 weeks, on average, Yes Health members are consistently eating meals rated green (healthy), demonstrating successful lifestyle change that will result in sustainable weight loss.

  1. Frequent, on-demand coaching 

Weight management programs that offer human coaches (not just bots) to support participants are more effective in engagement and weight loss success, studies show. In fact, having unlimited, on-demand access to coaches is the best of the best. 

In one study, the more frequently participants engaged with their coaches through one-on-one sessions, web classes and food log feedback messages, the more weight they lost over a six-month program. And the more personalized the feedback and communication, the greater the engagement by the participant.

It’s helpful to keep coaching in mind when choosing a weight loss program for your employees. A program like Yes Health that puts emphasis on on-demand, human coaching – whenever and wherever the member needs feedback or support – will achieve the engagement and, ultimately, the weight loss desired. Yes Health participants, for example, get 87% more interactions with employees compared to appointment-only programs, which is one thing successful members say impacts them the most. 


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  1. Positive, no-shame approach

Overweight people realize they are overweight. They just haven’t had luck with previous approaches to weight loss, or they haven’t felt confident they have what it takes to make the necessary life changes.

For these reasons, any program that uses guilt, shame or stigma to induce action should be crossed off the list. Research has found that those approaches increase stress, which then triggers a spike in cortisol. High cortisol compromises self-control, potentially leading to binge-eating. “Fat-shaming” is also tied to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and exercise avoidance – all of which get in the way of pursuing weight loss.

A good weight-loss program takes a positive approach, reminding participants they can do the hard work of losing weight; they can and will get healthier if they just keep at it, one day and one meal or workout at a time. This type of empowering and encouraging coaching approach is key to Yes Health’s high, one-year completion rate. Yes Health members say they feel a bond with their coaches that keeps them committed to pursuing their goals.

  1. Realistic goals

For an obese employee, losing 10 pounds may not seem like an achievement. But even losing 5%-10% of total body weight will lead to health benefits, including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduced risk for diabetes.

Furthermore, weight is only one factor indicating progress. Others may include a smaller waist size, better energy and mobility and fewer food cravings.

Employers should look for a weight loss program like Yes Health that helps employees set realistic goals and celebrate every small achievement along the way. Weight loss is hard and often not linear. There may be stops and starts and even a few setbacks. But when the program keeps a long-range focus and emphasizes healthy lifestyle change as a lifelong pursuit, the number on the scale gains perspective. 

When Employees Lose (Weight), Everyone Wins

When you choose a well-designed and well-balanced weight loss program for your employees, everyone benefits. Why? Because obesity has negative impacts on both your workforce and your bottom line:

  • Obesity increases risk for expensive and deadly chronic diseases. Obese employees are more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, many types of cancer and mental health issues like depression. In one study, annual medical costs for people with obesity were $1,429 higher than their co-workers with healthy weight.
  • Obesity leads to more days of missed work. Because of health complications, obese employees are more likely to miss work. According to the CDC, people who are obese miss about 56% more work days than those who are a healthy weight. Nationwide, lost productivity due to obesity-related absenteeism costs employers an estimated $3.38-$6.38 billion (about $79-$132 per obese individual). 
  • Obesity increases risk for severe and long-lasting COVID. According to the CDC, obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19. In one analysis of more than 70,000 U.S. adults hospitalized with the virus, 28% were overweight and 50% were obese. Given projections that COVID-19 will be with us indefinitely as an endemic virus, it makes sense to help your employees be as protected as possible.

Yes Health’s all-mobile lifestyle and behavior change platform can help your company avoid these costly consequences of obesity by improving employee health. Our team of nutrition, fitness, well-being and psychology experts support employees with a personal touch, on-demand, right from their smartphone or tablet. It’s convenient, quick and easy to use. Reach out to see a demo and discuss how your employees can say Yes to their health.