How Employers Can Effectively Combat Obesity in the Workplace

Emmie Sahlan

How Employers Can Effectively Combat Obesity in the Workplace

Obesity in the workplace is a significant issue employers should address not only for their employees’ well-being but also to help manage health care costs. According to Fortune, obesity-related health issues cost the U.S. between $147 billion and $210 billion annually. And key findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that almost 40 percent of the U.S. adult population between 2015 and 2016 dealt with obesity.

If unaddressed, obesity-related health conditions can translate into productivity losses in the form of excess sick day usage. They can also escalate health care expenses due to obesity-related chronic illnesses. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that productivity losses related to missed work days cost employers $225.8 billion — or $1,685 per employee — annually. And only a 1 percent cutback in excess weight, high blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels can result in $83 to $103 of annual savings in medical costs per person.

Ways to Combat Obesity

In view of the above statistics, U.S. businesses have taken measures to combat obesity in the workplace. It’s a chance to help employees achieve better health and save money at the same time. Some employers are taking advantage of this dual opportunity by implementing a comprehensive health-management strategy comprising long-term, realistic goals.

If you decide to follow suit, consider using employee demographics to develop goals in collaboration with your health insurer. Set key performance indicators using metrics like number of days missed, BMI scores or the participation rate of your wellness program to track progress. Next, implement practical initiatives with assistance from your wellness team. Communicate the benefits of these initiatives clearly to employees and ensure that they feel empowered to take ownership of their health.

Alongside these steps, try the following tips to help your employees achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Introduce incentives. Provide incentives, like extra time off, to reward employees who demonstrate an improved BMI score.
  • Emphasize the importance of preventive screenings. Biometric screenings can provide early warnings about chronic conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high glucose level. This allows employees to better understand their health risks and take steps to prevent negative conditions from escalating.
  • Form sporting groups. Start lunchtime or after-work sporting groups like walking or jogging clubs. Have a yoga instructor lead a monthly morning class.
  • Provide fitness gadgets. Offering free fitness gadgets to all employees will give them the opportunity to measure their physical activity. Organize team challenges to add an element of fun.
  • Offer discounted gym memberships. Encourage employees to work out in a gym by facilitating a membership discount.
  • Stock vending machines with healthy snacks. Ditch soda in favor of water and seltzer. Substitute chips and candy with nuts, pretzels and low-fat popcorn.
  • Provide healthy food options in cafeterias. Make sure it’s easy for your employees to choose fresh fruit, vegetables, soup, lean meat and whole grains.
  • Organize weight-management seminars. Collaborate with local dietitians to organize health and nutrition seminars to educate employees about food labeling, portion control and healthy choices.
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The Importance of Support

Your employees are a team. Encourage them to encourage each other. Creating a positive workplace where employees feel empowered about their health may make them more motivated and lift their morale. Ensure that your programs always stay positive. No one should feel judged or excluded due to their health.

Demonstrating a vested interest in combating obesity in your workplace through a sound health management strategy can result in improved productivity levels and reduced absenteeism — a win-win in the long run. The results speak for themselves when employees’ well-being improves while health care expenses decline.

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