UNMC weight loss study producing results in Columbus, 10-county area

Cindy Vrba has tried many popular weight loss programs with little success. Finally she lost 72 pounds with UNMC's help.

Cindy Vrba, 57 of Schuyler, has tried many popular weight loss programs over the years with little success. Finally she decided her health was more important than food. She’s lost 72 pounds.

Vrba is a participant in a University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing study evaluating the effectiveness of an Internet-based weight loss intervention in women who live in rural areas.

Rather than meeting in organized groups, the study is designed so women can work toward lifestyle change at home via Internet access. It evaluates three interventions to determine which is the most effective with the least cost: an interactive website, a peer-led discussion group, and email counseling.

More than 250 women from within about 50 miles of Columbus are participating or have participated in the study.

Carol Pullen, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant and professor in the UNMC College of Nursing in Omaha, said response to the study has been overwhelming.

“Our study participants’ generous volunteerism has the potential to help promote the health of countless women in the future when all the research data is analyzed and conclusions are published,” Dr. Pullen said. “The goal is to promote women’s health, and each participant is a partner in reaching that goal. Vrba is proof that this partnership really can work.”

Improving her health was Vrba’s goal in participating in the study.

“I needed to lower my blood pressure, and I was probably heading towards diabetes,” Vrba said. “I have a history of heart disease in my family, and I was worried that I could die before I have the chance to do things I want to do.”

Vrba, who works in Columbus, also attributes her success to being monitored along the way. “I had to keep track of the food I ate, which I found out is very important. My family also was very encouraging to me,” she said.

The hardest part for her, she said, was increasing her activity.

“Like many women who work fulltime, I’m worn out by the end of the day and still have lots to do when I get home,” Vrba said. “But I’m increasing my activity as much as I can because I know it helps.”

The women participate in three phases over 30 months: an intensive weight loss phase, an intensive weight maintenance phase, and finally guided weight maintenance in which women are supported in making lifestyle changes. The goal is to lose 5 to 10 percent of body weight with an eating plan based on their body mass index and decreased calories and lower fat consumption. 

Vrba said losing the weight has changed her life. “I feel great, I have more energy, my blood pressure is normal now and I’m no longer taking blood pressure medication or medication for high cholesterol.

“This program has been a godsend to me. I really enjoy going up to the college, visiting and going over all the different ideas they have for me,” she said. “The program helped me through tough times and kept me on track.”

A second sub-study will be conducted in 30 women, ages 40 to 69, of normal body weight. The goal of the research is to assess cardiovascular risk. The study involves one visit to Central Community College in Columbus. Those eligible should reside within about a 60-mile radius of Columbus in the counties of Platte, Colfax, Butler, Polk, Nance, Boone, Wheeler, Greeley, Stanton or Cuming.

For more information contact Laura DeWitt at 877-269-0034 or 402-559-6543.

The five-year, $3.2 million study is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.



Vicky Cerino
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-5190