MNI - Medical Nutritional Institute - to the lighthouse

By: Mni Lifestyle  11-11-2011
Keywords: weight loss, Disease, Obesity

8 July 2011: The worldwide increase in weight gain and obesity is having a major impact on personal health, putting individuals at greater risk for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. However, the obesity epidemic also has some ominous implications for the workplace.

Overweight and obese individuals are more likely, as a result of the negative health effects associated with their weight, to take sick days and perform suboptimally. The consequences of ‘corporate obesity’ can threaten the profitability and, at their most extreme, sometimes even the survival of companies. In many instances, health promotional programmes are used as a method to reduce these employee-related costs. However, although corporate wellness programmes are on the increase, the concept is still relatively new in South Africa, and only a few of these initiatives are comprehensive in nature and evaluate the impact of their interventions.1 One of these is the LightHouse weight loss systemTM developed by the Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI), a healthcare organisation that specialises in the prevention of disease and the promotion of wellbeing.

According to co-founder, Dr Conrad Smith, “It took us four years of trial and error to develop this system and we had to abandon many of our old-fashioned ideas about weight loss. After introducing it successfully in our own chain of healthcare clinics, we’re now also implementing it in external corporate environments.”

ABSA is one such environment. Wandra Marais, an action research specialist, who oversees employee wellness at ABSA, comments, “Over the past five years we’ve seen the increasing worldwide trend toward obesity reflected in our organisation. Eighty percent of our staff do not exercise at all, despite having access to several gyms within our head office.” Marais analysed the impact of corporate obesity when she evaluated the physical health profile of employees working within the corporate environment as part of her Master’s degree studies. “Obesity and lack of activity go hand in hand, but simply giving people the opportunity and facilities to exercise doesn’t automatically guarantee the behaviour change required for individuals to make use of them.” Dietary factors exacerbate the problem of a sedentary lifestyle.

Health-related investigations in the South African population show that so-called diseases of lifestyle, often associated with obesity, account for approximately 37% of deaths2 and that 56% of all South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64 have at least one modifiable risk factor for chronic diseases of lifestyle.3 Individuals at risk for poor health outcomes have been found to have significantly higher medical expenditures than those at lower risk – 21% in the case of those with extremely high body weight.

It is estimated that between 2% and 7% of all medical expenditure in westernised countries is related to individuals being overweight.5.6 “Because of the continued relationship between obesity and other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure, it is inevitable that obesity results in escalating medical costs,” observes Marais. “Even before one factors this in, it has to be remembered that health care expenditure is continually on an upward trend. There are costs not only for individuals but for their employers too, although the latter may be indirect.”

Marais feels strongly that a properly implemented wellness programme can make a world of positive difference. “ABSA has had considerable success with MNI’s LightHouse system, which uses a multidimensional approach that incorporates not only diet and exercise measures, but also psychosocial support, an awareness of individuals’ pre-existing medical conditions and sensitivity to differing cultural perceptions of overweight,” she says.

Other corporates have experienced similar positive results using the LightHouse system. Both Samancor and Sanlam are enthusiastic about the programme. Two years ago, 45-year-old Sanlam software designer, Jacques Theron, realised he was dangerously overweight and needed to do something about it. When Sanlam invited him to enter MNI’s LightHouse weight-loss challenge, he jumped at the chance. “I’d tried to lose weight before through dieting and exercising by myself, but without success. MNI’s programme excited me because of its holistic, supportive approach,” he explains. “It changed my life and I know that my colleagues who participated in the programme would agree. Seeing the positive impact it has had throughout the company, I would have no hesitation in recommending this highly effective approach to any organisation.”

Maryn Oosthuizen, HR superintendent at Samancor Eastern Chrome Mines, echoes Theron’s endorsement. “The programme is exceeding all our expectations. It is heartwarming to see how committed the participants are and how seriously they have taken this challenge”.

Dr Jack van Niftrik, from Samancor, reiterates both Jacques and Maryn’s endorsements by mentioning that is has taken them four years to lose the weight now finally, with the help of MNI’s programme, they succeeded and achieved their goals within three months!

“This would not have been possible without MNI’s continuous support. I think the success of the programme depends on a combination of individual perseverance and the onsite support we receive from MNI. The programme focuses not only on weight loss but overall health, including blood pressure and cholesterol, for example.

We are monitored closely and receive regular feedback and advice. The programme is an excellent corporate wellness initiative with benefits to the individual as well as the company. I’m proud to say that we have lost R216kg in total (21 participants) and are only half way. To me, the best part of it all is that it is easy to do and it works, says Maryn.”


  1. FERREIRA, M. 2006. The Wellness Programmes of Selected Companies in South Africa. Unpublished MA thesis. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
  2. BRADSHAW, D., GROENEWALD, P., LAUBSCHER, R., NANNAN, N., NIJOLANA, B., NORMAN, R., PIETERSE, D., SCHNEIDER M. 2003. Initial burden of disease estimates for South Africa, 2000. South African Medical Journal, 93(3): 682-688.
  3. LAMBERT, V., BOHLMANN, I., KOLBE-ALEXANDER, T. 2001. (Be active) - physical activity for health in South Africa. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 14: S12-S16, Sept.
  4. GOETZEL, R., ANDERSON, D., WHITMER, R., OZMINKOWSKI, R., DUNN, R., WASSERMAN, J. & HERO RESEARCH COMMITTEE. 1998. The relationship between modifiable health risks and health care expenditures: An analysis of the multi-employer HERO health risk and cost database. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine; 40(10): 843-854, Oct.
  5. WANG, F., MCDONALD, T., EDINGTON, D.W., CHAMPAGNE, L.J. 2005. Relationship of BMI and physical activity to health care costs among employees. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine; 46(5): 428-436, May.
  6. BIRMINGHAM, C.L., MULLER, J.L., PALEPU, A., SPINELLI, J.J., ANIS, A.H. 1999. The cost of obesity in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal; 160(4): 483-488, Feb.

Keywords: Disease, Heart Disease, Nutritional Institute, Obesity, weight loss

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