PUBLIC HEALTH
October 12, 2010

Helping Families Get Healthier

A study at IBM shows that modest company-sponsored incentive programs can increase the health of workers and their families.

A new study of IBM employees tests the idea that company programs designed to promote healthy lifestyles may actually do the trick. Of course, a little cash incentive doesn’t hurt either.

Researchers at IBM and the University of Michigan looked at how well the Children’s Health Rebate program worked on 22,000 company employees and their families. The program was broken down into four parts, all of which were aimed at getting families healthy and active. These included improving healthy eating and awareness of healthful food choices within the family; getting families to take on physical activity together; setting appropriate screen time; and helping parents learn to be positive role-models."

The results are very promising for a company-based program. Even more, the findings add to the growing evidence that programs that target the entire family are the way to go.

Families chose different actions from a list of about 50 health-advancing activities established by researchers. Examples included walking to school once a week, involving kids in meal preparation, only having fast food once a week, and so on. The program lasted 12 weeks and included a $150 rebate for completion.

At the end of this period, over 11,000 families completed the program, and the researchers saw many positive results. Among these, improvements in physical activity were at the top, with families improving their activity levels by about 17%. The measures of children eating healthy breakfasts and dinners improved by over 11%. Unfortunately, children eating more than 5 cups of fruits and veggies per day improved by only 9.6% — and kids watching less than 1 hours of TV per day improved by 8%.

Still, the results are very promising for a company-based program. Even more, the findings add to the growing evidence that programs that target the entire family are the way to go. The authors say that the families in the study felt that "program features that prompted family-centered actions and collaboration were most valuable to them". Hopefully more companies will jump on board with similar programs in the future.

The study was published in the October 4, 2010 online issue of Pediatrics.

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