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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Your mother isn’t the only one who wants you to eat right and exercise. Employers are increasingly prodding their workers to lose weight and get more active.
Companies are going beyond just handing out pedometers and offering Weight Watchers. Now more are measuring waist sizes, recording body fat levels and penalizing those who carry around too many extra pounds.
Wellness programs have been around for years, but they are evolving. Companies are doing more biometric screenings, where they measure metrics such as waist circumferences, cholesterol, glucose (sugar levels) and blood pressure, using independent third-party vendors to protect confidential employee data.
The latest trend is to offer rewards — and penalties — for workers who are at risk to take action.
“The hardest [metric] to move the dial on is weight,” said LuAnn Heinen, vice president at the National Business Group on Health, which found that increasing employees’ physical activity and managing their weight are large employers’ top health priorities for 2015. “They are shifting to more outcome- and goal-based incentives.”
Employers want trimmer workers: Weight is the main concern for many employers since so many Americans are too heavy. Nearly 7 in 10 adults are overweight, and more than one-third are obese, according to federal health statistics.
Obesity is also a risk factor for many expensive illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. And unlike high cholesterol and blood pressure, it’s easy to see.
“Employers know…it’s not hidden. You don’t have to screen employees. You just have to look at them,” said Soeren Mattke, senior scientist at Rand, which looked at employee wellness programs last year.
The number of firms using biometric measures is still relatively small, but more are adopting them, Heinen said. This is particularly true among larger employers.
JetBlue aims high: JetBlue Airways has revamped its wellness program in recent years, adding one-on-one coaching by benefits specialists or registered nurses in 2013 and testing a biometric measuring program this year.
Employees can earn up to $400 in rewards in their health savings account for partaking in certain activities, such as purchasing or owning home exercise equipment, working in a physically demanding job and participating in a healthy cooking class.
Signing up for coaching nets employees $50, but they earn another $200 for finishing it. Workers in the test program can earn up to $500 if they submit weekly weight, blood pressure and waist measurements and if their health improves based on their final biometric reading.
The programs are pretty popular with employees. Some 74% participate in the rewards program and 46% in the coaching initiative, said Kristen Brown, benefits director at the airline. And 76% of the people in the biometric program completed the six-month trial, which also involved counseling. Participants in this trial group were able to lower their risk factors, she said.
While JetBlue is using the carrot approach, others are employing more of the stick.
Penalizing workers who don’t participate: Lafarge U.S. offers a voluntary health screening and coaching program. Those who participated this year got rewarded, but those who didn’t were limited in their choice of company-sponsored health insurance plans.
Employees at the construction materials supplier can get free individual coaching with Cleveland Clinic specialists. They email their coach what they’ve eaten and how many steps they’ve taken, among other things, several times a week.
Everyone who undergoes the screening got a $75 gift card. But those who had at least three risk factors and didn’t partake in coaching could not sign up for the company’s gold-level insurance plan, which has no deductible and lower out-of-pocket costs. Workers who didn’t get evaluated at all could only choose a bronze plan that comes with a $2,750 deductible.
“Our expectation is that Lafarge and employees and dependents are both accountable for health,” said Philia Swam, director of health, wellness and group benefits.
(Federal anti-discrimination regulations require that companies allow employees to qualify for rewards or avoid penalties under an alternative standard. For instance, those with certain medical conditions can get a doctor’s note that allows them to get the incentives despite having risk factors or not meeting certain goals.)
Does it work? Just how effective of wellness programs are — both in shedding pounds or in saving money for companies — remains in debate. Only 10% of employees participated in weight management and 21% in fitness programs, according to the Rand study. And only 2% of employers reported actual savings estimates.
At Lafarge, some 97% get screened, but only 19% participate in the health care coaching program, Swam said. But the company is seeing results, she said. The number of employee hospitalizations has declined, while the number of preventative health care visits and tests, such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screenings, is up.
JetBlue, meanwhile, is trying to focus on workers who have risk factors but are not yet sick, Brown said.
SEATTLE – Losing weight is big business. According to The New York Times, Americans spend $5 billion to drop the weight but many don’t succeed.
But now, there are many websites out there that actually pay you to lose, but there’s a catch.
Healthywage.com is helping busy mom Jessica Smith drop her baby weight.
“I gained a lot of weight with my son and lot more than I should have,” says Smith.
Smith’s goal is to lose 45 pounds over the next year. Each month she puts $60 of her own money into the pot. Over the year, she will pay $720.
But, if she loses the weight, she will walk away with more than $2,000.
“Knowing there is a set date that I have to lose it by, yeah, the money has been pushing me,” says Smith.
Dietitian Deb Enos says it’s a great idea.
“When people have to put money down, it puts their feet to the fire,” says Enos.
But it only works for some people. The success rate on Healthywage.com is only 1/3 and men have better luck than women. A recent study found people are 5 times more likely to lose weight when money is involved.
Jessica Smith is already down 25 pounds and she’s confident she will meet her goal.
To learn more, click this link.
If you ever dry your jeans on high heat and struggle to zip them thereafter, you might have entertained the thought of weight loss. But even the strictest diet won’t make your pants grow — and shrunken jeans are a pretty stupid reason to change your body. A not-so-stupid reason: When you carry around too much body fat, it can accumulate and cause inflammation everywhere, says Dr. Myo Nwe, M.D., a weight loss physician based in South Carolina and author of the book Fat-Me-Not: Weight Loss Diet of The Future. Over time, internal inflammation can cause a bunch of serious side effects, including chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and various types of cancer. Weight loss can often reduce the symptoms and even undo some of the damage.
That said, everyone needs some body fat (about 25 to 31 percent body fat is average for women) to protect your organs, and fill out your jeans — which you should air-dry, for the record. Even if you have a little more or a little less body fat, it’s possible to be clinically healthy (i.e., free of disease and risk factors) at almost any weight.
While there’s no perfect way to assess your weight without a doctor, you can calculate your body mass index (BMI) on your own to get a basic sense of where you stand. (A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.) But head’s up: Insurance companies derived this formula to be a simple and accessible estimate of body fat and disease risk based on height and weight. It doesn’t actually assess your body composition, or account for family history, blood work, and lifestyle. In other words, you could have an overweight BMI and be healthy, or a regular BMI and be unhealthy. Still, BMI is a good place to begin if you want to assess whether your weight is problematic, says Dr. Nadia Pietrzykowska, an obesity medicine specialist and member of the Obesity Action Coalition’s education committee.
If your BMI is already over 24.9 and you have some of the symptoms below, consider chatting with your doctor about whether weight loss could improve your well-being.
1. It’s just uncomfortable to exercise. Like it or not, physical activity is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. But if your weight holds you back, weight loss could make moving way more fun, which will ultimately help you stick to any fitness goal.
2. Your snoring could wake the dead, and you constantly wake up groggy. If you snore like crazy and rarely get a good night’s sleep, you may suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which irregular breathing disrupts your sleep. Excess weight can bring it on: When your body stores fat around the neck, it can narrow the airway to cause shallow breathing or pauses in breathing.
3. You have tender spots everywhere. Inflammation can make the fatty tissue beneath your skin feel tender to the touch, kind of like spotty bruising. If your BMI is especially high, and you feel pain in random places, weight loss could help, Dr. Nwe says.
4. You’re tired. (All. The. Time.) Internal inflammation caused by excess fat can lead to a perpetual state of fatigue, Dr. Nwe says. If you have an elevated BMI, and routine tasks like grocery shopping exhaust you, your extra pounds could be the culprit.
5. You’re pretty much always hungry — even though you eat plenty. Of course, this could be a sign that you’re eating the wrong foods, like candy, which lack the fiber, protein, and healthy fat that keep you full. But it could also be a sneaky symptom of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes — especially if you’ve had an elevated BMI for years, plus blurry vision, tingling, or numbness in your hands and feet, extreme thirst, or unusually frequent pit stops, according to the American Diabetes Association. Over time, excess weight can trigger these conditions, while weight loss can reverse them. (Obviously see your doctor for a formal diagnosis though.)
6. Your doc says you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Dr. Nwe says weight loss can bring these numbers down without medication, which is safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than popping pills forever.
7. Your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches. Not to put a hard-and-fast number on health, but science suggests that excessive belly fat can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Nwe says that people distribute weight in different places and that waist circumference alone isn’t the most accurate way to assess health. But if your BMI is elevated and your waist circumference tops 35 inches (grab a measuring tape and exhale as you hold it just over your hip bones to check), chat with your doc to see if you should consider sizing down for health’s sake.
8. You lost a grandparent or parent to cancer. Excess fat can produce excess estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer, and other kinds of hormones that may promote tumor growth, according to the National Cancer Institute. A family history of cancer can increase your risk from the get-go. While there’s not much clinical evidence to prove that weight loss can protect you entirely, many observational studies have linked lower weight gain during adulthood to an overall lower cancer risk.
9. Your knees, hips, and back hurt. Excess weight can put extra pressure on the joints, which wears down the tissue around them and makes moving uncomfortable, according to information from the National Institutes of Health.
10. You’ve gained a few pounds every year since before you can remember. When you’re growing, it’s normal to gain weight over time. But if your weight continues to soar after your height peaks, your doc may recommend behavioral changes to steady the scale and avoid all the sucky symptoms above.
And if you think you need to lose weight for your health? Definitely get a second opinion — your doctor can help you make realistic tweaks to your diet and lifestyle to promote steady, healthy weight loss over time and maintain the results for good.
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Elementary and middle schools in over a dozen states including Arkansas, California and Illinois, mail letters of concern to parents of overweight children. These controversial notices, dubbed “fat letters” in the media, can send a family into a tail spin. Parents don’t know how to talk to their children about dieting and exercise and studies show that often these conversations are more hurtful than helpful. What’s a parent to do?
Enter Kurbo, a new app that’s designed to empower kids to make healthier choices and lose weight without feeling stigmatized.
While the market is flooded with weight-loss apps, Kurbo claims to be different because it’s based on practices from a program at Stanford University with a proven track record. Since 1999, more than 80 percent of the participants in the Pediatric Weight Control Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital have achieved age-approrpriate weight-reduction. Stanford stays away from straight-up dieting and calorie-counting and helps kids change their lifestyle by encouraging them to exercise and choose healthy foods. Kurbo has taken this approach and turned it into an easy-to-use app.
Kurbo is the brainchild of Joanna Strober, 46, who got the idea when her own son was struggling with his weight.
“I tried giving him feedback on changes to make, but honestly, that just made things worse and he gained weight,” says Strober of Los Altos, Calif. “I think this was specifically because I was inadvertently making him feel badly about his choices.
“We’d go to doctors and they’d make him feel really bad. One doctor sat him down and showed him a picture and said, ‘These are your favorite foods. You can’t eat these anymore.’
“This only made him angry and he started eating more.”
Strober pitched her idea to childhood friend Thea Runyan, who’s a mother of three living in Belmont and the lead behavior coach at the Stanford program. In a matter of two years, they developed the program for young people ages 8 to 18 that features an app and supportive expert coaching.
“We started Kurbo to give kids the ability to take charge of their eating, without parents or doctors telling them that they were bad, or overweight, or couldn’t eat the food they like,” says Strober, who gave up her career as a venture capitalist to launch Kurbo. ”We feel really strongly about not stigmatizing these kids, but giving them tools to make better, healthier decisions.”
Strober’s son used the program as it was being developed and lost 18 pounds. “Most important his BMI went from 95th percentile to 82nd. Ninety-five and above is considered overweight,” she says.
While the latest 2010-2011 numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the childhood obesity problem is finally improving (or at least leveling off), prevalence still remains high overall and is a serious concern among health professionals. For many years, the rate was climbing at an alarming rate but the latest numbers show that obesity among 2-to-19-year olds has not changed significantly since 2003-2004 and remains at about 17 percent. Among kids ages 2 to 5 the obesity rate decreased from 14 percent in 2003-2004 to just about 8 percent in 2011-2012, that’s a 43 percent drop.
Schools are screening for obesity with a body mass index test (BMI) reading, a height-to-weight ratio measurement that is used by doctors to designate if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. This BMI screening is usually done at the same time as the Physical Fitness Test. Doctors and sports coaches also often alert parents that their children are overweight and when this happens, Strober hopes families will consider Kurbo.
Kurbo is based on a “traffic light” concept. On the app, foods are divided up into three categories: red, yellow and green. Cookies and candy are obviously red-light foods but juice and white flour–based carbs such as bagels are also on the list. Meat and whole-wheat carbs are yellow, while fruits and vegetables are green.
The idea is that users are supposed to reduce their red-light foods while increasing the yellows and greens.
“Instead of getting kids to track calories they track their foods,” Strober says. “All studies show that if you track what you’re eating, you’re more likely to lose weight.”
The app also teaches portion control and kids use their fists to asses the amount of food on their plates. What’s more, fun games provide nutrition lessons, a budgeting tool helps kids adjust their diet around special events, and weekly challenges keep users engaged.
In addition to the free app, coaching is available for a fee. Kids can communicate with their coach via text and email (unlimited access for $20 a month) or they can catch up over Skype for 15 minutes once a week ($75 a month).
“The goal of the coach is to provide that accountability so it doesn’t fall on the mom,” Strober says.
Since its launch in August, the app has thousands of users and hundreds of kids are signed up with coaches to give them encouragement and motivation. Strober doesn’t have long-term data yet but she says so far about 85 percent of users are losing weight.
Strober explains that the app is effective because it empowers kids. ”One of the reasons dieting so often doesn’t work with kids is because parents are saying ‘You can eat this, but not this,’” she says. “The app takes the power away from the parents and gives it to the kids. It changes the way parents and children talk about the issue. Parents only have to say, ‘Did you follow the program?’”
Jordan Greene of Redwood City, Calif., is a Kurbo user who felt inspired by the program. The 14-year-old started when her ice-skating coach bluntly told her that she needed to be more physically fit and her doctor informed her family that her BMI was too high. She was at risk for Type II Diabetes if she didn’t slim down. Within four months of using Kurbo, Greene lost 25 pounds.
“I was so self-conscious and I really cared about my appearance, but I thought it would take a lot of work to lose weight and I didn’t even know where to begin,” Greene says. “I tried to lose weight by eating less junk food and exercising more, but I was still eating foods that weren’t healthy, and I didn’t have the motivation to stick with it. I didn’t even realize that I was eating so many red-light foods. There was no one to support me and my weight and BMI continued to go up.
“My experience with the Kurbo app has been so positive. The app was really handy – I especially liked being about to open it up and use it anytime. When I ate something, I immediately tracked it. Kurbo helped me really think about what and when I was eating.”