Employees who are overweight or obese can reduce your company’s productivity, increase health care costs, and are at risk for even more serious and costly health complications in the future. Targeting obesity in the workplace is one of the most important strategies for employers looking to improve employee health and lower medical costs.

The Risks

Obesity increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoarthritis and more. Many of these conditions are serious, extremely costly and can even lead to death. The financial impact of employees who are overweight or obese can be substantial for employers. In addition to the risk for serious disease, overweight and obese employees are sick more often, miss more work, may be less productive while at work, often visit the doctor more and tend to have higher health care costs.

Measuring Obesity

Measuring one’s body mass index (BMI) is one approach to assess if a person is overweight or obese. Though it has some drawbacks, it is widely accepted as a good indicator of a person’s weight “category” (underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese). Employees can use a simple BMI calculator (like this one) to calculate their BMI.

Addressing Obesity Through Wellness

The first step is helping employees identify whether their weight falls into a healthy range or not. You could provide this service through a larger health clinic, use a health risk assessment or have employees calculate their own BMI online using the above calculator. Also, it’s important to educate employees about the serious risks of being overweight or obese, and the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.

Beyond empowering employees with knowledge about their weight and potential risk factors, employers can help employees control weight by offering programs that emphasize physical activity and nutrition. The most effective initiatives will be multifaceted, focusing on both employee education and participation programs. Consider including:

  • Training in goal setting and lifestyle skills
  • Self-help materials
  • Individual and/or group counseling
  • Educational materials distributed throughout the workplace
  • Classes or seminars
  • Competitions
  • Insurance coverage for obesity screening, counseling and treatment, including treatment specific to nutrition and/or physical activity
  • Incentives to participate in a particular program, take a certain class or seek specified treatment

The following strategies and programs can be implemented to focus specifically on improving nutrition:

  • Nutrition education classes
  • Specific dietary plans
  • Counseling to help individuals acquire the skills, motivation and support they need to alter their eating and food preparation habits
  • A policy mandating that healthy food be provided in the company cafeteria, vending machines, company events, meetings and parties – be sure to include nutrition information, promote the offerings to employees and make them affordablewoman exercising in group class

To encourage employees to engage in regular physical activity, consider the following ideas and strategies:

  • Group exercise sessions
  • Company sports teams, walking clubs, company sporting events or other activities that involve social support
  • Discounted membership to fitness centers
  • Providing flextime so employees have time to fit physical activity into their day
  • Environment changes to encourage physical activity, such as providing on-site fitness equipment, building walking trails near the building and installing showers for exercisers to use
  • Encouraging use of the stairwells instead of the elevator, through motivational signage and improvements to the physical appearance of the stairwell