Workplace Safety Blog Post

Obesity in the Workplace

In the United States, obesity is an epidemic that impacts the lives of millions. Since 1980, the prevalence of adult obesity has more than doubled. More than one third of the nations adults have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, which is the clinical definition of obesity. Add  another 40 percent that are overweight and your have yourself an epidemic of seismic proportions. The numbers are truly alarming and while it continues to be a matter of public health, it’s now starting to impact the workplace as well.

Use the CDC’s online tool to check your BMI now.

Obesity’s impact to our nation’s health issues can be seen in the from of several health issues including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and certain types of cancer, however it’s impact in the workplace can be seen in the form of numbers.

  • According to a 2008 report by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (August, 2008), U.S. employers spend more than $200 billion annually on account of obesity-related health conditions.
  • A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health (Vol. 39, No.3, 2013), indicated that obesity was associated with a 25 percent higher risk of work-related injury, independent of all other relevant factors.
  • According to the CDC, the rise in the obesity rate significantly impacts the U.S. health care system to the sum of about $147 billion a year and rising.

How much does obesity cost your workplace? Use the CDC’s Obesity Cost Calculator Worksheet to break down the cost of obesity to your organization.

Stop obesity with exercise and healthy diet Opportunity For Change

Whether you consider this to be a good or bad statistic, the fact is, nearly 139 million Americans spend about a third of their time at the workplace. This is a significant amount of time out of our lives and as obesity numbers continue to rise,  this is a huge opportunity for employers. An opportunity to to help create a workplace culture that understands the importance of a health-conscious work environment. An opportunity to educate their workers on the benefits to eating healthy, being more physically active, and simply taking better care of themselves in general.

Why Fight Obesity?

The incentives for the employer to have a healthy workforce are tremendous. The CDC indicates that a healthy workforce can lead to the following benefits:

  • Lower insurance premiums
  • Less worker’s compensation claims
  • Higher productivity levels from employees
  • Less time away from work due to obesity related issues.

What Can You Do?

There are several options for organizations to fight obesity in the workplace. The CDC is making it easier than ever with their National Healthy Worksite Program (NHWP). The program is designed to help organizations adopt workplace health improvement programs that can address obesity and excess weight conditions. The program includes assessment of employees’ needs, the development of evidence-based health-related plans that give workers opportunities for professional health coaching, weight management and physical activity through changes in work environment.

More benefits to NHWP are:

  • Free or subsidized body composition measurements.
  • Provide a series of educational seminars, workshops or classes on weight management.
  • Free or subsidized one-on-one or group lifestyle counseling for employees who are overweight or obese.
  • Free or subsidized self-management programs for weight management.
  • Provide cafeterias and vending with healthy food and beverage choices.

Another growing trend among forward thinking organizations is an employer-subsidized weight loss program. There are many online sources, such as websites and social media platforms that make it convenient for people to participate in programs that promote healthy eating habits and physical activity.

…employer-subsidized weight loss programs may offer one of the best approaches to help foster employee wellness.

-Lori Adams, RN, industry director for Liberty Mutual’s Risk Quality Assessment Department

Doing something is better than doing nothing in the fight against obesity. We are all unique individuals and there is no single program that will provide the magic solution to your organization. There are several options out there, if you’re dedicated to the fight.

Here is a list of the most popular ways organizations are fighting obesity:

  • Formal workplace wellness program
  • On-site medical checkups
  • A gym or fitness facility
  • Healthy on-site food options
  • Nutrition education
  • Weight-loss competitions
  • Wellness incentives

Additional Resources