Older Workers Benefit from Health Behavior Programs with Personal Coaching

A combination of personal coaching and Web-based risk assessment may help engage older employees in health behavior programs.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago recently evaluated worksite wellness interventions that assessed older workers’ health behaviors, including physical activity, diet, stress reduction and smoking cessation. Participants ranged in age from 40 to 68 and were placed in three separate study groups that featured: a Web-based risk assessment with personal coaching support; a Web-based risk assessment with behavior-specific online modules; and a control group that received printed health-promotion materials.

“What we found is that there were real differences in uptake between the two groups,” said Susan Hughes, professor of community health sciences, co-director of the UIC Center for Research on Health and Aging at the Institute for Health Research and Policy and principal investigator of the study.

The researchers found that 59 percent of participants in the Web-based assessment with online modules actually used the program, compared to 95 percent who used the program combining personal coaching with the online assessment.

Coached to Results

While both programs used Web sites to provide standardized risk assessments, develop risk appraisals and offer suggestions for pursing health-related behavior change, the coaching program also incorporated individualized counseling by phone or in person with a public health-educated coach.

The participants who received personal coaching as part of their program demonstrated better outcomes: At 6 and 12 months, these participants reported eating significantly more fruits and vegetables than the control group and also reported significantly more minutes of physical activity. They also reported a significant reduction in dietary fat intake at 12 months.

The group that received Web-based assessment without coaching, meanwhile, reported a decline in waist circumference at 6 months that was maintained at 12 months. The researchers intend to return to the data to search for an explanation for this result.

Findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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