Your workplace may not be on your list of the most likely places to find weight-loss success. After all, donuts and birthday cakes appear year round, co-workers keep candy jars on their desks, and the vending machine is so convenient when a craving strikes. But maybe the workplace should be on your list.

Weight-loss programs at work can be successful helping people both lose weight and keep it off. In fact, workplaces seeking to reduce workers' medical expenses may find cash is a great incentive.

Spending on corporate wellness increased from $460 per employee in 2011 to $521 in 2012.

A study by researchers at Tufts University has found that workplace-based weight-loss programs are a good way to help people lose weight. In the Tufts study, overweight and obese employees at four companies volunteered to enroll in a free weight-loss program.

Two companies participated in the intervention and two did not, and served as the control group. Employees followed a reduced-calorie diet which emphasized low-glycemic, high fiber foods, and they were responsible for buying and preparing their own meals. The program was free of charge and included group sessions.

Six months later not only had the participants lost weight, 18 pounds on average, but they had lower cholesterol and glucose levels, as well as lower blood pressure, compared to the employees who did not participate in the program. Given the option to continue in a six-month maintenance program, about half of the participants did so, and they successfully kept the lost weight at bay.

Researchers made an effort to reach all employees during the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not just those who enrolled in the program, by sending newsletters and holding monthly seminars on health-related topics. Even employees who did not enroll in the program benefited from the presence of it in the office culture — they lost as much as three pounds.

What about the two companies who did not take part in the program? Their employees gained an average of nearly two pounds.

In another weight-loss study appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, obese employees were offered a program with a cash incentive for meeting weight-loss goals. They were randomly assigned to one of three weight-loss groups.

Money Helps

The first group, the control group, was given no financial incentive to lose weight but they were provided with weight-loss information and scheduled for monthly weigh-ins. The second group was given the same information as the first group, but they were also offered $100 at baseline and every four weeks for 20 weeks if they met their target monthly weight-loss goal. In the third group, five employees were clustered together but did not know the identity of the others in their group. They received the same weight-loss information as the other groups but they were also told that up to $500 could be earned to split among the members of the group who met their weight-loss goals each month. Those who did not meet their goals received no money.

After 24 weeks, those in the third (group incentive) group lost on average seven pounds more than those in the second (individual incentive) group, and an average of nearly 10 pounds more than those in the first (control) group.

The authors believe that the team approach may have been more effective for several reasons. Certainly one was the possibility of earning a larger than $100 reward, but the motivation of competition and an aversion to losing out were factors as well. However, this was not part of the study and employees were not asked about their motivators.

Because of the high cost of health insurance and the dent it makes in corporate profits, many companies are now involved in efforts to improve the health of their employees in order to keep the cost of insurance down. The National Business Group on Health says that spending on corporate wellness increased from $460 per employee in 2011 to $521 in 2012.

These two studies demonstrate the possibility that worksite health promotion programs could be the long-term answer to not only getting and keeping employees healthy, but keeping insurance costs down, as well. In fact, worksite wellness could be health care reform at its best.