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How Employers Can Encourage Employees and Families To Live Healthier

By Serena Gordon
Health Day Reporter

Families were asked to select between 3 and 10 action goals to strive for during the 12-week program. Goals might be to limit eating fast food just once per week, to eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, to walk children to school at least once a week and to involve children in meal preparation at least once a week, according to the study.

The families were given a tracking sheet and asked to record how they did with meeting their goals.

"Families sat down together, and children were part of the decision making on goals," said study decision Chifung Lu, a senior analyst at the University of Michigan Health Management Research Centre. "Filling out the tracking inventory became a family project."

More than 11,000 -- 52.2 percent of those enrolled -- employees completed the program. Those that finished it reported increased physical activity, reduced time spent on electronic entertainment and more healthy family meals.

The study found that family physical activity done more than three times per week went up 17.1 percentage points during the program, while eating healthy dinners five or more times a week went up by 11.8 percentage points. Among children, spending less than an hour a day in front of the TV or doing video games went up 8.3 percentage points, according to the study.

"It's hard to say if this really works or not. There's a definite bias because it's self-report, and a bias in the population because IBM employees tend to be highly educated. But it probably does help to an extent, because you would hope it would inspire parents to think about healthy eating and physical activity habits. And, the program materials probably add to their knowledge," said Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Centre at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

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