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Health management: Weighing in on workplace weight management

Integrated Wellbeing
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By Brittany Clarke, M.S., M.C.H.E.S. | September 13, 2017

Given the continued cost pressures and prevalence of obesity among employees, weight management and nutrition programs remain a topic of conversation.

Medical costs continue to increase and more employers are looking for specific interventions to reduce this trend. According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, employers expect health care costs to increase by 5.5% in 2018, up from a 4.6% increase in 2017. In conjunction with the threat of rising health care costs, employers are weighed down by rising rates of obesity (70%), sedentary lifestyles (61%) and poor nutrition (50%) in the workforce.

Given the continued cost pressures and prevalence of obesity among employees across industries and regions, weight management and nutrition programs remain a topic of conversation and consideration for employers. In fact, 81% of employers offer a weight management program, 64% sponsor fitness challenges, 36% sponsor the use of wearable tracking devices, and 27% incent the use of a weight management program.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important to an individual’s overall health. Being overweight can lead to serious health problems, affecting both the employee’s well-being and the company’s health care costs. One study found that the workers’ compensation claims, probability of disability, and the number of days missed to any cause increase with a BMI over 25, and morbidly obese employees can cost employers an additional $4,000 per year.

If employers are to help lessen the toll that obesity can take, it’s essential that they implement a strong, well-rounded health management strategy. Weight management is a good place to start. Here are ideas for activities and programs to encourage employees as they work to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Nutrition

As a company, you can take several measures to support healthy eating habits.

  • Stock vending machines with healthy options. Replace sugary beverages with water, fruit juice and vegetable juice. Replace unhealthy snacks with pretzels, fresh fruit, low-fat popcorn and other nutritious options.
  • Provide healthy meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins and whole grains in your cafeteria and at catered events, conferences and meetings.
  • Price non-nutritious options at a higher cost to encourage consumption of healthier choices.
  • Label foods in the vending machines and cafeterias to show serving size and nutritional content.
  • Offer employees the opportunity to purchase locally grown fruit and vegetables at the workplace. (This could be a workplace farmers market or a community supported agriculture drop-off point.)
  • Ensure space, facilities, and equipment are adequate to support employees who want to bring their own healthy meals to work.

Physical Activity

Physical activity burns calories, which is necessary for weight loss. You can implement a variety of initiatives to encourage employees to be physically active during the workday and at home.

  • Install bicycle racks in convenient, accessible locations to encourage bicycling to work. Consider sponsoring a “bike to work” day and reward employees who participate. Small lockers are also helpful for employees who want to bring a change of clothes and shoes.
  • Post motivational signs near elevators to encourage employees to take the stairs instead.
  • Create recreational company sports teams or walking clubs, or organize a company-sponsored team for a local run or walk event to help make exercise more fun.
  • Provide on-site fitness equipment, offer standing desks or build walking trails near the building for employees to use. If on-site fitness is not an option, offer discounted memberships to local fitness centers instead.
  • Instead of sitting down for meetings, host walk-and-talk meetings when it is nice outside.

Support

Adopting better eating and exercise habits requires a commitment and lifestyle change on the part of your employees. Use the following strategies to support your employees’ healthy lifestyle efforts.

  • Create a support group that meets weekly or an online forum where employees can encourage each other and share advice.
  • Design activities that feature partners or teams to encourage accountability and peer support.
  • Offer flexible work hours and breaks to enable employees to develop healthier, more active lifestyles.
  • Encourage family participation and support, to help provide motivation at home and establish healthy family habits.

It’s also important for upper and middle management to support any health management initiative. In addition, programs should be personalized, include a range of health and well-being activities, and include user-friendly tools to help employees make smart health-related choices.

Encouraging employees to live healthy lifestyles can help lower your company’s health care costs. Focus on implementing initiatives that support exercise and nutrition to keep your employees healthy.

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