Teaming Up Online to Fight Extra Pounds

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Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic is harnessing the social power of the Web to jump-start employee health through its company wide weight loss challenge, Shape Up and Go! Although the program is just for the hospital’s 43,000 employees, public health officials are taking note of what could be an effective way to lower employers’ health care costs and engage patients in disease prevention.

The program’s online portal, Shapeupandgo.org, won a 2011 Healthy Living Innovation Award from US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for being a “creative, replicable, and sustainable innovation” to promote healthy lifestyles. Through the site, employees form teams, compete with coworkers, track daily diet and exercise goals, and interact with other participants to stay motivated and shed pounds.

The program has proved successful, drawing more than 18,000 employees since its launch in 2009. For a $10 fee, registrants receive a welcome package that contains, among other tools, an Omron pedometer to track their daily activity levels. For participants and for the Cleveland Clinic, it’s an investment that is worth every penny.

“We are launching Shape Up and Go! 2011 as part of our ongoing investment in our people and to do our part to help drive down healthcare costs and make the communities we serve more competitive for jobs,” wrote Mike Roizen, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer, in a letter to participants.

Dr. Roizen and his team, along with 7 other winners of the Healthy Living Innovation Awards, will be invited to a national conference to share their experiences launching the program. “We hope that these eight outstanding projects will serve as model programs for community stakeholders,” said Sherry Glied, PhD, HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Replicating the program in other health plans could give patients the motivation and support they need to shape up. “Being middle aged I had pretty much given up hope on being able to lose weight. Shape Up and Go was the start of a whole new outlook,” said Judy Wimmer, RN, of the Cleveland Clinic’s Beachwood Family Health Center.