DENVER (AP) - Michelle Ebert played basketball, volleyball, tennis and softball in high school. But she gained weight after college while building her career with a firm that helps other companies manage customer service, often working 14-hour days.
Ebert lost weight twice with a diet program only to regain the pounds later. A new wellness program promoted by her employer prompted her to try again. Two years later, Ebert, 40, has lost 80 pounds, and she no longer needs to take two pills she once took for high blood pressure.
Ebert, director of a Morgantown, W.V., center for Colorado-based TeleTech Holdings Inc., credits a companywide emphasis on wellness for helping her stick to her fitness program. Co-workers also started living healthier and asking her how she lost the weight.
"The more people you have to pat you on the back and they've noticed a difference, the more motivated you are," she said.
Companies are increasingly looking at wellness programs to cut rising health care costs, said Lisa Walvoord, vice president of policy for LiveWell Colorado. Some programs ban smoking at the workplace or provide financial incentives to go to the gym. Various studies have shown the programs can improve employees' fitness and lower costs, Walvoord said.
"The downside is in most programs, a small percentage of employees take advantage of them," said University of Colorado School of Medicine professor James Hill, who co-founded the America on the Move initiative aimed at preventing unhealthy weight gains.
"Oftentimes the people who take advantage are the people who are doing the right thing anyway. It's an area we're interested in working on: how to get more employees interested," Hill said.
Employer-offered wellness programs tend to work better when top managers are involved and the company culture encourages participation, Hill said.