21 Feb 2012

Faculty, staff shedding weight through support groups

Author: Nathan Lowe | Filed under: BGSU, Local stories, Science, Health, Environment, Spring 2012, Student Contributor


As it turns out, Ohioans are among the fattest and least fit Americans.

The Buckeye State has the 13th highest obesity rate in the nation, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 30 percent of Ohioans are obese.

Ohio ranked among the most obese states in the country in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC photo.

The BGSU Department of Psychology is among a handful or organizations on campus trying to reverse this growing trend. The department annually conducts a weight loss intervention program as part of an ongoing effort to develop more effective weight control approaches.

Over the course of the 18-week study, participants learn how to develop healthy diet and exercise habits and disrupt unhealthy ones—something health psychologist Rob Carels said is never an easy task.

“It’s a difficult endeavor,” he said. “Some people have been eating an unhealthy diet for 20, 30 or 40 years. Some never exercise and routinely engage in sedentary habits.”

Carels, who is currently in his 13th year as an associate professor of psychology at BGSU, said he and his staff believe it is imperative to offer participants support and encouragement.

“Given our culture’s preoccupation with thinness, people who are overweight may experience judgment from others in their daily lives,” Carels said. “We’re here to help.”

This semester, 54 faculty and staff members signed up for the free and confidential program. Carels said about half of the participants were randomly selected and placed into a group that will continue to meet for 90 minutes weekly until June.

In their search to find more effective weight loss interventions, Carels and his team will regularly examine the effectiveness of what they call a “stepped-care approach,” which they will test on the other half of their participants.


The BGSU Department of Psychology annually conducts a weight loss intervention program as part of an ongoing effort to develop more effective weight control approaches. Photo by Nate Lowe.

Individuals assigned to this group will be given a weight loss goal. Those who reduce their body weight by at least 3 percent during the first six weeks will take a step toward independence.

When the study is completed, the researchers will compare the results of this “stepped-care approach” group with the results of the first group and publish their findings.

“This is a way for us to measure what methods are successful,” said Carels, who has been conducting similar studies in conjunction with the Department of Psychology for more than 10 years.

After 12 weeks, people who lose at least 6 percent of their body weight will continue the program on their own. Those who are not able to maintain their weight loss, however, will lose their independence and be moved back into the group.

Health epidemiologist Leah Maynard said many participants of group exercise programs make the mistake of reverting to old habits when the programs end.

“It’s a challenge for most people because we have become accustomed to doing things the easy way and not necessarily the healthiest way,” said Maynard, a researcher who works in Atlanta, Ga., for the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

“If you start with small steps and gradually form new habits,” she said, “then the process can be less daunting. You don’t need to change everything all at once.”

To help reinvent a person’s lifestyle and help them shed sedentary habits, personal trainer Karyn Smith said she urges BGSU faculty and staff members to change their surroundings.

“You can change your entire home and work environment to either facilitate health or interfere with it,” she said. “You must have the appropriate people around you to set yourself up for success.”

Smith recently finished registering faculty and staff members for the Healthy Heart Challenge, a six-week physical activity program sponsored by the BGSU Department of Recreation and Wellness that encourages participants to exercise for 150 minutes each week.

Smith said she helped design the program, which began on Feb. 13, to show participants the benefits of healthy eating and exercising by offering them support and education.

Her goal is to encourage and motivate participants to continue to exercise and develop healthy habits for the rest of their lives.

“By eating healthy and exercising for six weeks,” Smith said, “it’s not going to make that big of a change. We want them to engage in a healthy lifestyle.”

BGSU staff member Linda Hammer, who is participating in multiple campus-funded health programs this semester, said in an email that she is grateful that Smith and her team are so invested in physical fitness.

“I am fortunate to have access to all of the programs at BGSU to keep me motivated and engaged in a healthy lifestyle,” she wrote.

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