When Capt. Fred Hepler took on new duties leading the Aviation Support Equipment Program Office last year, he quickly found an opportunity to scale back but not by trimming his budget.
Instead, Hepler, the program manager for PMA-260, went for its belly, emphasizing the importance of a fit workforce as one of his priorities at his first all-hands meeting in August 2011. Hepler's vision inspired the department to develop its own version of the popular TV weight-loss show "The Biggest Loser."
Cmdr. Robert Farmer, executive officer for PMA-260, organized a 10-week program from March to May that pitted 12 participants against each other in a race to lose the most weight and become the organization's "Biggest Loser." PMA-260's contest focused on four areas: knowing your metrics, or measurements; eating healthful foods; getting enough sleep; and exercising.
The 12 participants lost a combined 157.1 pounds and an average body fat of 3.53 percent.
Farmer recognized the top four winners at an informal ceremony May 31 in the Moffett Building, where PMA-260 is headquartered. Along with bragging rights, winners received gift cards for their hard work.
"Cmdr. Bob Farmer was the chief architect who masterminded the Biggest Loser competition idea," Hepler said in a phone interview. "He took this wellness initiative to the next level, exceeding my expectations!"
Drop and Give Me 20
Ever since the highly rated "Biggest Loser" reality TV show burst onto the scene in 2004, modified versions of the weight-loss competition have sprung up as people look for creative ways to shape up and shed pounds.
Focusing on a healthier lifestyle can have long-lasting benefits, said Jillann Hamilton, fitness coordinator for NAS Patuxent River.
"If you make exercise a priority and remember to choose healthy foods while cutting back on portions, these little things will go a long way towards you having a long, healthy, happy life," Hamilton said. "When you're idle most of the day, sitting in a program office environment, it's easy to get into bad habits."
With high-stress jobs, frequent travel and lots of "working" lunches and dinners, finding time to exercise and get enough sleep can become a challenge for military workers.
A 2008 survey by TRICARE, the health-care program for uniformed service members, retirees and their families, revealed 60 percent of all DoD military personnel were considered overweight, with 13 percent considered obese.
In the broader population, more than one-third of U.S. adults are classified as obese, according to recent data from the National Center of Health Statistics. In Maryland, that number is 27.1 percent, the center said.
"There's been a lot of talk in the office about striking a good work-life balance," said Chris Giggey, half of Team Pointers, the overall weight-loss champions. "Since I joined PMA-260 10 years ago, I've gained about 50 pounds, so I wanted to take the opportunity to do a contest where I could lose some of that weight."
On TV, "Biggest Loser" participants weigh in weekly to track their progress. Similarly, PMA-260 adopted the show's tracking method and used it to foster healthy competition.
"Weekly weigh-ins were the best motivation," said Lt. Dewayne Irvin, the other half of Team Pointers. "It's positive self-reinforcement that shows you're doing well and makes you want to do better."
Competitors also stayed on course with the help of a weekly spreadsheet, which was updated with participants' progress.
"Lt. Cmdr. Jose Montes kept a spreadsheet that published the percent lost each week," said Samuel Winters, the overall champion. "It's nice to have a timeline because otherwise you say 'Well, I'll get in shape,' and then you just let it slide."
During the next phase of the program, participants will focus on maintaining their weight loss and fitness, Farmer said.
"The participants have seen weight- and body-fat percentage loss, but more importantly they have made significant lifestyle changes to improve their overall health and wellness," he said. "The participants dedicated many hours and much effort to exercise and eating well, and they plan on continuing to do so in the future."
With the success of the organization's first weight-loss program, Farmer said PMA-260 will likely launch another round in the fall to combat the seasonal snacking that ushers in the holiday season.