Pilot test of a workplace obesity intervention shows potential for dissemination and sustainability

Healthy eating and activity are important to prevent obesity and chronic diseases, yet those who are most likely to bear a disproportionate burden have limited access to resources that promote healthy eating and activity, especially in the workplace. Thus, there is a need for workplace programs that promote healthy eating and activity that reach low-wage employees and are scalable beyond the study site.

Researchers for this study developed an interactive obesity treatment approached (iOTA), that was delivered by SMS text messaging. The study aimed to evaluate participant engagement and acceptability with iOTA to determine if this program would be suitable for dissemination and sustainability. iOTA was designed from previous weight loss interventions and included a baseline meeting with a health coach as well as three behavior change goals. Each participant received interactive, automatic text messages which included weekly weight and goal achievement check-ins as well as one behavioral tip per week.

Twenty participants from a single workgroup employed by a university medical billing office received the intervention. Researchers then assessed weight, dietary and activity behaviors, responsiveness and satisfaction at various points throughout the program up to two years after initiation. Though the pilot was originally intended to last 3 months, nearly all participants requested to continue, and the program was piloted for 24 months. Here are the results:

  • At 3-month follow-up eight (47%) of the remaining 17 participants had lost weight.
  • By 24 months, five (36%) of the remaining 14 participants had lost weight.
  • Participants reported very high satisfaction.

It should be noted that iOTA was not designed or powered to determine efficacy; however, these preliminary findings suggest a trend toward increased physical activity and some amount of weight loss among more than a quarter of participants.

SMS-based interventions are an ideal workplace intervention because they accessible to broad populations and inexpensive to the participants. This research is important because it provides preliminary results on high acceptability and good participant engagement with an SMS-based intervention intended for low-wage workers, with significant potential for dissemination and sustainability.

Tabak RG, Strickland JR, Kirk B, Colvin R, Stein RI, Dart H, Colditz GA, Dale AM, Evanoff BA. Pilot test of an interactive obesity treatment approach among employed adults in a university medical billing office. Pilot Feasibility Stud2020;6:57doi: 10.1186/s40814-020-00599-w. eCollection 2020. PubMed PMID: 32355567; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7187490.