More and More Employers Joining Fight Against Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released updated statistics on obesity in the United States, and while levels have not increased substantially in the past year, it is still estimated that 35 percent of adults in the United States are considered to be obese.

As of 2008, obesity related complications had an estimated cost of $147 billion, including increased health care costs and higher rates of absenteeism at work. Since many employers bear the brunt of a lot of these costs, it’s not surprising that they are joining in the fight and finding ways to help their employees exercise and eat well. Here is how employers are helping in the fight against obesity. 

Health Promotion

Many employers are trying to impact the obesity rate by encouraging employees to be more healthy. According to the CDC, “A workplace health program is a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes while at work. These programs consist of activities such as health education and coaching, weight management programs, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs, and more.” Some employers offer weight loss groups for people who want to attend, while others may offer fitness equipment in the office or discounted health club memberships. 

Incentives

Since the early 2000s, employers have begun offering incentives to employees who practice healthier habits, including reduced health insurance payments, access to healthy eating coaches and others. The Harvard School of Public Health published an article called Employer Health Incentives that outlined some of the ways in which employers are trying to entice employees to make healthier choices. While the article mainly examines the legality of such programs, it made the following observation: “More research is needed to learn just how effective workplace incentives and disincentives really are, [but] when it comes to the daunting challenge of changing people’s health-related behavior, ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ may be the best tools available.” This statement is supported by a study published by the Obesity Society, which found, “New research shows that when employers offered financial incentives, employees were 33 times more likely to participate in telephone health coaching, and did so sooner, than employees without incentives.” 

Healthier Foods

Nutrition experts agree that mindlessly snacking, especially on foods with high sugar content and high fat content, contributes greatly to obesity. To combat this, many employers have decided to start at the vending machine and in the cafeteria, offering healthier fare for lunch and break time snacks.

A Society for Human Research Management article, Healthy Eats: How to Overhaul the Workforce Cafeteria, outlines a process for stocking the employee cafeteria with healthy options. The article maintains, “The sad truth is that many people do not take the time to plan for and prepare nutritious home-cooked meals during the week. This means that if they don’t have access to a healthy and appealing cafeteria selection at work, many will find themselves eating out each day at lunchtime.” Since many restaurant meals are higher in calories, stocking healthier food at the company cafeteria can help employees knock calories out of their weekly meals. 

Health programs are mutually beneficial

Although many employers have begun enacting healthy living programs and incentives as a method for potentially cutting their own employee expenditures, these programs are mutually beneficial. The company saves on health insurance premiums, absenteeism and a host of other related expenses, and the employee reaps the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, such as improved mood and higher energy levels. Another benefit of these programs is that they give employees access to a built-in support system of coworkers and health care professionals. By working together, employers and employees can take steps to reduce rates of obesity in the United States.