Tackling Obesity in the Workplace

Obesity and overall health in the corporate world is becoming an increasing problem especially in the United States. Jobs that require sitting at a desk all day do not help. But should workers care? More importantly, should employers worry about the weight of their workers?

Aaron Landry / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Obesity is more than just a number on a scale

  • Larger employees cost employers.  MarketWatch says, “Obesity-related health problems account for a big chunk of medical claims, insurance experts say, leading some executives to believe the best way to trim their budgets is to get workers to trim their own fat first.”
  • Obesity in the workplace costs businesses billions of dollars each year. “Full-time workers in the US who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers — resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll.” (via Obesity Campaign)
  • Obesity can compound other injuries. According to an article in Insurance Journal, “Obesity increases the healing times of fractures, strains and sprains, and complicates surgery.”
  • The Obesity Campaign states there are more than 60 chronic diseases associated with obesity.

So there is an argument to be made that obesity is more than just a personal issue. It’s a professional liability in some instances. The question then becomes what can be done. What can/should employers do, and what options are available for more sedentary work environments?

  • Employers should encourage employees to get up from their desk each hour or so, even if only for a few minutes.
  • Where possible, employers might consider providing standings desks. Read about one Philly business offering this option.
  • Offer treadmill desks. Researchers speaking with Harvard Business Review suggest treadmill desks may be a good fit in terms of health and productivity.
  • Instead of having a coffee machine, provide fresh fruits and water to boost energy and productivity.
  • Provide healthier options at the cafeteria such as salad bars and healthier vending machine options.
  • Instead of having sedentary brainstorming meetings, try having a walking meeting outside (weather permitting!)
  • Offer wellness programs tailored to individuals to meet their specific needs.

Sure, incorporating healthier options and wellness programs might offer upfront costs, but a wealth of research indicates the savings in terms of workers’ compensation matters, sick time and overall employee health are significant.

Photo credit: Aaron Landry / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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