Obesity is predicted to bump tobacco out of its title of leading preventable cause of death in the United States (CDC). With the percentage of obese adults in the US continuing to rise and the percentage of worldwide obesity more than doubling since 1980. Obesity-associated health care costs are greater than those attributable to smoking, drinking, and poverty.
An employee with a body mass Index of 35, compared to an employee with a BMI of 25, has nearly double the risk of filing a short-term disability claim or a workers’ compensation claim. The costs associated with an obese individual are estimated to be more than $1,400 higher than healthy weight individuals. These costs are largely due to chronic diseases and musculoskeletal issues that extra weight increases the risk of acquiring.
Adding a wellness program into the workplace benefits the employer and employee alike by lower healthcare costs, increasing employee morale, fostering more productivity, lower absenteeism and increasing the ability to recruit and retain top talent. Above all, by tackling obesity, we will succeed as a society in improving well-being and reducing the loss of life.
Adding in movement during the day
Sitting is known as ‘the new smoking’ and for good reasons. Sitting for more than 4 hours per day can lead to a host of preventable health problems such as obesity, diabetes, low back pain, certain kinds of cancer, and heart disease. Sitting slows the metabolism down by 90% and after 20 minutes, blood begins to pool in the legs.
By standing for as little as five minutes each hour you can increase insulin uptake and activate enzymes that break down bad cholesterol. There are many other things that can be done within a workplace to promote movement including:
- Offer adjustable sit & stand-up desks
- Add in walking meetings
- Provide an onsite gym or cover cost of gym memberships
- Provide pedometers and/or digital health technologies to monitor movement
- Sponsor competitions such as a 5K company Turkey Trot (seasonal competitions are shown to break records in regards to participation)
- Allow for and support walk breaks or working out during lunchtime
Promoting Nutrition and Weight Loss:
Commonly found at companies both big and small are jars and bowls filled with candy, pretzels, and other unhealthy snacks. If your workplace supports unhealthy foods, like snack jars available to employees filled with sugary candy, then you might as well be promoting weight gain.
Kaiser Permanente demonstrates its leadership in creating a healthy work culture by having vending machines filled with healthy options and cafeterias that comply with Partnership for a Healthier America’s guidelines. In addition to offering healthy options, they implement an Instant Recess campaign, which promotes 10-minute physical fitness breaks in the middle of the day to support mental breaks and weight loss. To support nutrition and weight loss at your workplace make sure there are healthy food options readily available. Go a step further and make the healthy options easy to grab on the fly such as pre-cut and prepared veggies.
Here is a list of ways shown to help create a more healthy workplace:
- Have lunch-in learns to educate employees on good nutrition
- Fill snack machines with healthy food options
- Only offer nutritious food at company-sponsored events
- Offer an evidence-based weight loss program and/or digital health programs with health coaching
- Offer healthy food alternatives at meetings
- Encourage eating lunch away from the desk
Stress can cause biochemical reactions in the body that lead to craving unhealthy foods as well as increased appetite and fat storage. Stress also leads to a host of other issues such as sleep deprivation, stomach aches, headaches, and low morale.
All these issues, according to the American Institute of Stress, lead up to US businesses spending more than $300 billion annually. Some companies offer flex time and paid time off instead of “sick leave” and encourage employees to use it to recharge. A fantastic resource for how to reduce stress at the workplace can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Samples of what companies are doing to reduce stress at work include:
- Flex time
- Unlimited vacation or generous paid time off (PTO)
- Healthy worksite classes (yoga, meditation, exercise)
- Giving workers opportunities to participate in decisions affecting their jobs
- Social activities at the workplace to foster community and connection
- Clear definitions of employee roles and responsibilities
Solving the weight-gain and obesity epidemic requires a comprehensive wellness program that addresses exercise, nutrition, and stress at the workplace.
Companies that have successful wellness programs not only see an ROI on their healthcare expenses but also have happier and healthier employees. Below are some more resources on what other companies are doing for their employees and on how to start a wellness program.
- Schulte PA, Wagner GR, Ostry A, et al. Work, obesity, and occupational safety and health. Am J Pub Health 2007;97:428-436.