Mark Wilson, head of the department of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, has received a grant to test different versions of a diabetes prevention program in workplace settings. The $3 million, five-year grant will fund a six-month weight management program aimed at reducing caloric intake and bolstering physical activity among employees of municipal governments in Georgia.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the grant will enable Wilson to implement three separate diabetes prevention programs in Athens-Clarke County, Columbus and Macon.
With health costs steadily rising during the past 30 years, Wilson said it has become increasingly important for employers in both the public and private sectors to identify ways to promote healthier lifestyles as a means of saving money.
“Simply put, if you’re overweight, you’re going to face a whole host of health challenges. You likely will have to go to the doctor more often and may be taking a number of medicines,” he said.
“You’re likely to be in the hospital more regularly and deal with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health issues. All of this can become very expensive.”
Wilson noted the correlation of the increase in overweight Americans and the rise in the number of instances of type II diabetes. The more diabetics in the workplace, the more treatment and medication required to manage the disease, he said.
As a result, many organizations have seen their health care costs increase in the past three decades. Additionally, Wilson said overweight workers in labor-intensive environments are more injury-prone—particularly to neck and back injuries—which further drives up costs to the employer.
Wilson and his colleagues in the Workplace Health Group have been developing intervention programs to help organizations provide the services and support needed to reduce obesity levels in their workplaces. He has conducted similar intervention projects, but this study aims to increase the level of intensity at a level that is manageable—and economically feasible—for the participating organization.
The intervention program will test three different formats designed to improve the health outcomes of employees of the participating governments. The first relies on a group-centered approach in which eight to 10 participants will regularly meet to share progress and provide support in a group setting. This approach is regularly used in many workplace environments.
The second approach puts into practice a new way to foster engagement, with the health coach interacting with each participant individually via telephone. The health coach is a colleague of the participant who has received training and is able to provide knowledgeable support to those in the program.
These two additional formats, along with a third “control group” that only receives an educational manual, will be the backbone of the study. Each of the three communities will be guided by one of the three formats and then evaluated to determine which method was the most effective for curbing obesity in the workplace.
Data will be collected prior to the launch of the program, at the conclusion of the study and at a six-month follow-up point.
“Our next step is to see if we can increase the intensity of these programs so we can get greater decreases in weight,” Wilson said. “Our previous studies have had some success in maintaining weight, but it’s time now to introduce some new things and get a greater level of interaction and, in turn, better outcomes with our participants.”