The GEICO Study: Plant-Based vs. S.A.D.
According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), 37% of people living in Ireland are overweight, and 23% are obese. Being either overweight or obese are often accompanied by higher overall health risks such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, as well as some cancers, which can deprive people of up to 8 years of life, and 19 years of a healthy life (1). This means that 60% of people living in Ireland are at increased risk of significant, potentially fatal health impacts from COVID-19, due to health conditions related to being overweight or obese.
Making the right food choices for our physical and mental wellbeing should be of interest more now than ever before. A study about the effect that food has on our physical health was conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2) in cooperation with the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), a major US insurance company with around 27,000 employees nationally (3). For this study, the researcher wanted to assess the effect that a low-fat plant-based diet has on physical health, in a larger and more diverse working environment.
Employees from across 10 sites of the insurance company, who had a BMI ⩾25 kg/m2 and/or had developed Type 2 diabetes, were separated in two groups: one followed a low-fat vegan diet for 18 weeks; the other did not make any dietary changes during this time period.
People in the plant-based group were asked to follow a diet consisting of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits – but remove fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products from their meals, as well as minimise added oils. They were allowed to eat as much vegan food as they want, with no restrictions for these 18 weeks. The cafeterias at these sites were set up with low-fat plant-based options, and participants received group support as well as weekly lunch-hour classes with trained instructors, in order to assist them during the period of the study.
The control group neither changed their diet, nor did they have specific food provided, nor dietary lectures/cooking classes – but they did each receive a compensation payment of $50 for participating in the study. All participants from both groups were also asked not to alter their exercise patterns for the duration of the study.
The results were eye-opening: participants who ate a vegan diet lost more weight (4.3kg on average) than the control group (0.08kg). Total cholesterol decreased by 13.7 mg/dl on average in the intervention group, while it only decreased by 1.3 mg/dl in the control group. The vegan group also reduced their glycated haemoglobin/HbA1C remarkably more than the control group (0.7 percentage point to 0.1 percentage point).
After completion of the study, the control group were also offered the low-fat vegan program. All participants had the same stunning results that the intervention group had enjoyed previously, with an average weight loss of 3kg, and reduction of total cholesterol by 3.03mg/dl, as well as HDL by 1.78mg/dl.
This clearly demonstrates the benefits a dietary change to a plant-based diet can have on human health, as well as tackling the increasing risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diet-related diseases that are a threat to public health – causing many of us to focus on preventing disease, prolonging life and improving our overall quality of life.
A low-fat vegan diet may help not only with weight loss, but also enhance overall wellbeing, as shown in the GEICO study. Implementing plant-based food choices in work settings would be greatly beneficial for all employees, as it reduces the risk of health complications, makes people feel better and thus, increases productivity. Today, it is more essential than ever to make the right food choices and support the immune system, as new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19 emerge. A lifestyle change should be strongly supported by employers, health insurance companies, as well as governments. However, for the time being, the power is in our own hands to switch to a plant-based diet and take control of our own health!
Sonja from SOS Free