Employers are Waging a War Against Obesity

overweight worker

It often seems that we are destined to lose. Eating well now requires a level of proactivity that is often hard to muster. Especially for a working population and their families.

Can we change the course for an individual headed down the path of weight gain? Yes. Is it hard to do? Yes, it is. In fact, it’s harder than ever.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. It matters to our families because many of our loved ones are losing the war against obesity and sacrificing their own health and longevity.

Why it Matters to Employers

Medical costs for overweight employees are $1,850 per year higher than for healthy-weight ones.

It matters to employers because the obesity epidemic is taking its toll on medical costs and workforce productivity. Obesity is linked to heart disease, pulmonary disorders, depression, arthritis, hypertension and other musculoskeletal maladies. Depression is an insidious co-morbidity to many other conditions and is well recognized to exacerbate medical costs.

This is of notable concern to employers, especially in the United States, who are footing the lion’s share of the bill for health care costs. Consider this finding: medical costs for overweight individuals exceed the cost of employees (and adult dependents) at a healthy weight by $1,850 per year. That number jumps to $3,086 per year for obese individuals, and a staggering $5,530 per year for morbidly obese adults.

As a person’s BMI increases, so do the number of sick days, medical claims and healthcare costs associated with that person. Obesity is associated with lower productivity while at work (presenteeism), which costs employers $506 per obese worker per year. And obesity-related job absenteeism costs $4.3 billion annually.

The Solution

We have to recognize that we are waging a war against obesity. We have to recognize that workplace programs that address obesity and sedentary lifestyles matter.

Obesity-related job absenteeism costs $4.3 billion annually.

The magnificent innovation that we are witnessing in the United States, and worldwide, in workplace wellness is of vital value to the businesses that sponsor those programs. The value on investment is there. Our ability to pinpoint a discrete return on investment (ROI) shouldn’t actually matter in a setting where:

  1. co-variables change every fiscal quarter, and
  2. things just take time

Food is personal. Food is political. Food is business. And obesity is becoming a bigger problem for employers worldwide.

My opinion: We need to deepen our efforts in health and wellness of the populations that serve our interests. Businesses that invest time, money and people into wellness programs are on the right path. I fervently believe that this is a best practice for companies to embrace.

But we also need to recognize that a culture of overindulgence and taste-bud overload may have its appeal, but in the end, success is accomplished by bucking trends and identifying better ways of doing things.

It matters to working families. It matters to the businesses that employ men and women who spend their waking hours at places of work. It is time to mobilize and get proactive.

About Ron Leopold

Ronald S. Leopold, MD, MBA, MPH, is National Practice Leader, Health Outcomes at Willis' Human Capital Practice. He…
Categories: Employee Wellbeing, Health and Group Benefits | Tags: , ,

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