Perspectives: Promoting health and wellness on our campus and in the community
This is an excerpt from the October 2012 edition of Perspectives, an electronic newsletter from Harold L. Paz, M.D., chief executive officer, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, senior vice president for health affairs, Penn State, and dean, Penn State College of Medicine.
As an academic health center, we have a proud mission that extends beyond treating the sick – promoting health and wellness has long been a vital part of what we do for our patients, our employees and students, and the community as a whole. Increasingly our nation’s health care system is changing in ways that reinforce the importance of wellness, prevention and effective disease management. More than ever before, hospitals and clinicians are being rewarded for keeping people healthy and out of the hospital, rather than the more traditional model of being paid for taking care of people once they’re sick. With preventable illness and often manageable chronic diseases taking a significant toll in terms of mortality, quality of life, productivity, and health care resources, it’s essential for academic health centers to lead the effort to find effective strategies to promote good health through prevention, wellness programs, and tools to help patients and the public take charge of their health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined obesity as an epidemic. It accounts for more than 10% of U.S. medical costs, or about $150 billion a year. Currently 1 in 3 adults and nearly 1 in 6 children are obese, so finding effective ways to help patients reach and maintain a healthy weight is one of the most important ways an academic health center can improve health and well-being among the populations it serves. We know that cultural changes such as the increased presence of higher calorie foods and larger portion sizes have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the past few decades. At the same time, Penn State Hershey researchers are finding that other societal changes, like the advent of social media, may be useful in fighting it.
A recent study conducted by Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences, Christopher Sciamanna, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and public health sciences, and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and colleagues in Hershey and at University Park, demonstrated the effectiveness of a web-based weight loss program that features successful strategies of others who have lost weight. The researchers designed a website called Achieve Together using data gathered from a previous study that identified key behaviors associated with successfully maintaining a weight loss of 30 pounds or more. The website matched users to role models closest to them in age, gender, and target weight, and allowed them to view their role models’ strategies for weight loss, which they could then use to develop their own weight-loss plan. Over the course of twelve weeks, study participants who used the web-based program lost an average of 4.5 pounds more than members of a control group of people trying to lose weight on their own. As the researchers suggest, since web-based programs like this one entail minimal costs, they could prove to be a cost-effective way to promote and support weight loss.