When employees hunch over keyboards all day, all the motivational posters in all the break rooms of the world won’t improve their health.
Health care giant Kaiser Permanente—a leader in designing wellness programs for other organizations—wondered what it could do to get its own staff to eat better and exercise more. Thus was born an innovative e-mail campaign that delivered big results.
For 16 weeks, Kaiser sent weekly e-mails suggesting small, practical, individually tailored goals: eating fruit for a snack three times a week, walking for 10 minutes a day at lunch time or walking to the store instead of driving.
Designed as a formal study, the program was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kaiser found that employees who received the messages significantly improved their health, compared to a control group that didn’t get the e-mails.
Participants were more physically active, ate more fruits and vegetables and reduced their intake of saturated fats and trans fats.
They increased their participation in moderate intensity physical activities by almost an hour a week and decreased the amount of time they spent in sedentary activities by about two hours a week. The changes had a lasting effect four months after the study ended.
“The take-away message here,” said Barbara Sternfeld, the Kaiser research scientist who headed the study, “is that e-mail intervention programs are a very cost-effective way to get healthy. A tailored e-mail program includes all the things that behavioral scientists have said for years about changing behavior: small goals tailored for the individual, reinforcement and tracking, but delivered in a mass, cost-effective way.”
Participants received weekly e-mails in their work or home accounts for four months that were tailored to their individual needs and life situation (for example, whether they had children at home or schedules that hindered exercise and diet improvement).
The e-mails linked to a personal home page with tips for achieving the small-step goals the respondent had selected, educational materials and tracking and simulation tools. Reminder messages were sent between each intervention message.
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