October 17, 2008

Employers want their employees to live healthy, happy lives both at and away from the workplace. However, with the hectic lives most Americans lead, it can be hard to find the time or energy after a long day's work to practice healthy habits.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is partnering with businesses to help improve the health of their employees by offering its program, Weight: The Reality Series, at work sites.

Weight: The Reality Series is a 10-week course designed to help reduce and maintain a person's weight through nutrition and fitness education. A 2007 extension report on the program's statewide results said the more than 1,700 people that participated in the program reported an average weight loss of 5.6 pounds and a 1.1-inch reduction of their waist lines. Many also reported making positive lifestyle changes including better portion control, more water intake and increased activity during the day.

            "A lot of the program's success is due to people being in a supportive environment," said Janet Tietyen, UK associate extension professor of nutrition and food science. "When you have people supporting each other, it makes it easier to reach your wellness goals and lose weight."

Amelia Brown, a family and consumer sciences agent in Fayette County, has been offering the program at two Lexington businesses, Quantrell Cadillac and Central Bank. She said the supportive environment has been the key for participants to make positive lifestyle changes.

"At both Central Bank and Quantrell, they're just really good people and they enjoy being together, talking and sharing different things they are going through," she said.

Not only is the program beneficial to employees, but employers see benefits as well. Tietyen said, as the cost of healthcare continues to rise, employers are learning that a wellness program can help keep these costs down for both themselves and their employees. This is because employees who maintain a healthy weight tend to have lower risks of obesity-related diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. Brown said she has heard similar stories from the two businesses she works with.

"At both of the work sites, I've met with their presidents or their CEOs, and they both say this is beneficial for their employees because of healthcare costs," Brown said. "Both of them are very, very passionate about making their employees healthier and happier people."

Many of the participants in the Quantrell program said, since the program is offered at lunch, it is easier for them to regularly attend.

"I was going to another program in Stanton, Kentucky, and it was the Weight: The Reality Series program. It was so good, but I couldn't get from here to there every time, so I asked them how we could get it down here," said Freda Fletcher, a Quantrell employee who initially called Brown about bringing the program to the business.

Brown works with both companies' schedules so the sessions are at a time that's convenient for them. While the Quantrell group meets during their lunch hour every other week, the participants from Central Bank meet every Wednesday morning.

During each session, Brown discusses a topic, such as improved sleep, that can lead to a healthier lifestyle. She distributes healthy recipes and additional information on health-related topics. She also demonstrates and leads group members in exercises.

"Each lesson is different, and each person gets something different out of it. So I think it all comes down to making this something fun that people enjoy doing," she said.

Weight: The Reality Series can easily be adapted to accommodate any work schedule or situation. For more information on Weight: The Reality Series or how to start a wellness program in your area, contact the local branch of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.