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Vol. LXI, No. 13
June 26, 2009
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Incredible Shrinking Workforce
Employees Lose Weight, Find Support at NIH

Lori Krasner had struggled with extra weight before. A couple of decades ago she’d buckled down and lost some 20 pounds. Last summer, though, she noticed she had been feeling tired and that her energy level seemed low all the time. Other physical problems had cropped up. Her lower back seemed to ache constantly, for instance. Sure, she realized she’d gained a lot of weight over the last 10 years or so. After all, she rode the commuter bus about 90 minutes to and from her office. She sat behind a desk all day at work. Her lifestyle was basically sedentary. Still, it wasn’t until she was strolling through the mall one day that she actually caught a glimpse of herself—full length—in a mirror. Her reflection stopped her cold. First there was weeping, she admits. Then she turned to Weight Watchers…at work.

NIH’s Biggest Losers

Krasner, who handles contracts and budget matters in OD’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, joined WW in July 2008 and is currently just 10 pounds short of her goal weight. And she’s still dropping inches. An HHS employee for more than 23 years—20-plus at NIH—she could also be the poster child for incorporating weight management into the workday.
Lori Krasner, before Weight Watchers at NIH Lori Krasner, after Weight Watchers at NIH
Lori Krasner, before and after Weight Watchers at NIH

“NIH promotes health and fitness,” she pointed out. “People who work here need to take advantage of the things we have for health and wellness. We need to focus on work, but also on feeling better, living better and healthier lives.”

In addition to learning to eat the WW way—making good food choices, controlling meal sizes—Krasner added physical activity to her schedule.

“I now try to do some sort of exercise for an hour every day,” she said. “I’m planning on running my first 10K with a coworker and I plan to try a triathlon in the fall.” Her workout routine consists of going to the NIH Fitness Center at lunch, running, biking and swimming. She has also become somewhat of a WW pied piper. She recruited 30 NIH’ers to join the at-work program in January. Her enthusiasm is catching.

“Losing weight made me feel better,” Krasner said. “It helped my self-esteem. I feel like I have so much energy. I’m 46 and I feel better now than I did at 36. And my back doesn’t hurt anymore. NIH offers Weight Watchers at work sessions in Bldgs. 31, 10 and Natcher on a regular basis. People need to take advantage of this.”

She’s not alone—in becoming a “Watcher” nor in making weight management work at work, according to Laura Lavrin, NIH Fitness Center director. Dozens of NIH’ers have joined Weight Watchers here since its inception in 2005. NIH’s WW at work web site says the “total weight loss for 3½ years at NIH is over an unbelievable 3,687.2 lbs.”

Connie Seminerio, in her office about midway to goal weight
Connie Seminerio, in her office about midway to goal weight
“It works,” Lavrin confirmed. “I have spoken to fitness center members enrolled in Weight Watchers and they have lost pounds and inches because they are using the information they learn in their sessions. The Weight Watchers leaders are very knowledgeable and actually care about members being healthy and losing weight.”

OD budget analyst Connie Seminerio is more than halfway to her goal weight, after dropping 35-plus pounds with WW. She attends the traditional sessions after work and uses her daily lunch periods for working out in the NIH Fitness Center.

“If you follow it, it will work,” she said, after nearly a year on Weight Watchers. “I eat almost anything I want. I have a sweet tooth too. [WW] is good for weight loss and good for mental health. I feel a lot more…perky the whole day.”

No Substitute for Support

WW was founded more than 40 years ago by an overweight Queens, N.Y., housewife who invited a few friends over to chat about ways they could ditch extra pounds. The now-worldwide brand these days hosts an estimated 46,000 meetings (and weigh-ins) every week in 30 countries. The at-work version features 12-week and 17-week sessions that turn coworkers into comrades-at-arms in the Battle of the Bulge. Making the commitment together—starting a session with the same group of folks at the same time—seems to make losing easier for some.

The typical workweek for most employees is still 40 hours. Do the math. What it boils down to is, you share mind, body and spirit space with your coworkers for a huge chunk of valuable time. Some would argue it’s the most valuable portion of time, the wakeful hours when you’re most alert and engaged. So who better to help you reach and maintain your weight goals?

David Kirchhoff, president of Weight Watchers International, says WW has taken note. At-work program membership has increased by 14 percent annually since 2005, he said, making it one of the fastest growing parts of WW business.

“Businesses are increasingly recognizing that weight management is a serious health issue,” he explained. “We know that it has implications for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancers. From an employer’s point of view, that’s expensive.”

According to some estimates, Kirchhoff said, overweight workers cost about 35 percent more to employ than their healthy weight counterparts. The figure jumps to 70 percent if the employees are on medications.

“It just makes sense to provide preventive health care that can stop illnesses and problems before they become chronic…Offering Weight Watchers at work is a nice return on a very small investment in a happier, healthier, more productive workforce.”

A Weight Watcher himself since 2000 and newly minted lifetime member, Kirchhoff speaks not only from a professional perspective but also with personal experience: “I’m at the point now where I can maintain a healthy weight lifestyle. The things the program taught me are now part of my daily life. I could not have done it by myself…Weight Watchers is your partner. It empowers you as you get stronger and stronger. My advice is this: ‘It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. Don’t beat yourself up and stick with it.’”

For more information about WW at work, visit www.recgov.org/fitness/weightwatchers.htm. NIHRecord Icon

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