Program pays for weight loss

OWLS, a program spearheaded by a Student Health Services dietician, teaches participants to make healthy food choices and lifestyle changes.

OWLS, a program spearheaded by a Student Health Services dietician, teaches participants to make healthy food choices and lifestyle changes.

PAUL KLEIN TTN Student Health Services Clinical Dietician Nicole Patience started the OWLS program five semesters ago. Recently, it was approved by the Institutional Review Board for research.

A new study being conducted at Temple affords students the chance to learn how to lose weight and get paid for it.

Onward to Weight Loss Success is an 11-week group meeting throughout the semester.

Nicole Patience, a clinical dietician at Student Health Services, started the program five semesters ago.
“It started out as a co-ed group, but over the last year, we have offered [men’s and women’s groups],” she said. “We had been finding some interesting results and thought, ‘Why don’t we get some [Institutional Review Board] approval and turn this into a formal research program?’”

The IRB works to protect participants’ rights and other interests during a study.

“Based on last year’s appointments, about half of them are spent with students who have weight loss goals,” Patience said.

The University of New Hampshire conducted a survey in 2007 of 800 college students’ diets, exercise habits and typical routines. Nearly 30 percent of the female students and almost half the male students were considered to be overweight or obese, according to the findings.

Freshman biology major Atusa Shirasb said she wants to make more nutritious choices, not just lose weight.

“I was interested in improving my diet before,” Shirasb said. “I wasn’t actively looking but did want to find a group.”

She said she wants to learn about how to eat properly and meet people with similar interests for support.

“Everyone’s different,” she said. “I have some friends who eat whatever they want and some who just don’t eat.”

The OWLS program was created to teach weight control and healthy lifestyle skills.

“It’s really about clarifying and sorting through a lot of the messages that are out there about weight loss,” Patience said. “It’s also about taking advantage of the group dynamic and the peer support.”

Shirasb lives at home, but said she often finds herself buying unhealthy food on Main Campus.

“Even though I don’t live here and don’t go to [Johnson and Hardwick cafeteria], I’m still on campus all the time,” she said.

“All my life I’ve been a soda addict. Pepsi or Coke, I need it at least once a day. Another is pasta. I’ve tried whole wheat, and it’s terrible. It doesn’t taste the same at all,” she said.

Shirasb said part of the problem is a lack of healthful and affordable options.

“Lunch trucks are very greasy. Here in the [Student Center] there’s a Burger King, pizza, a cheesesteak place. You don’t get that healthy of a choice,” she said. “They have the crappiest salad bar, and it doesn’t look as appetizing as everything else.”

Her remedy would be more nutritious meals and a healthier selection of drinks, she said.

Temple is collaborating with the Center for Obesity Research and Education on the study.  They are currently establishing research protocol and the measures for before and after.

When the program begins in February, participants will have a preliminary weigh-in and physical to assess their current health status. Personal goals will be set in group meetings, and progress will be tracked. For the purposes of the study, not everyone is eligible.

“This is a weight loss group, so in order to feel comfortable talking about struggles with weight loss, it’s for students who are overweight,” Patience said.

Participants will be compensated, but the exact amount of money paid is undisclosed.

Last spring, there were two women’s groups and one men’s group with 10 participants each.

Another goal of the program is to expand it to other universities.

“We just want to help people understand,” she said. “It’s action-oriented, with a little bit of information and then how to apply it, to make small changes, lifestyle changes.”

Michelle Provencher can be reached at

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