Workplace Design Effective for Weight Management

Employers are looking for more ways to help encourage their workers to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A healthy weight is one such factor in the quest for healthy employees. The encouragement of healthy weight is not only a great ambition for the employee, but also for the employer, as there are many benefits to both parties when employees are healthy.

Obesity is becoming an epidemic in the US, and cases of this dangerous health risk have doubled in less than a decade. It is estimated that the annual healthcare cost of obesity is nearly $147 billion a year! On a more local level, obesity is very costly for an employee, as poor overall health and increased obesity-related medical issues can cost employees approximately 42% more than people with a healthy weight.

The cost of obesity can be just as staggering for employers. In fact, it is figured that obesity costs a 1000 employee employer approximately $285,000 a year. In addition to the direct costs, the indirect costs can be even more devastating to a company. Overweight and obese individuals have more chronic health problems than healthy-weight people, resulting in increased absenteeism (tens of millions of lost work days annually) and disability. As these costs continue to soar, it becomes a cost effective idea to help employees to maintain a healthy weight.

A study in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine looked at whether workplace design could affect the weight of the workers. The researchers looked specifically at the impact of environmental interventions at several Dow Chemical Company worksites. They found that simple low cost interventions could make big differences. The company offered encouragement for employees that took the stairs, and made healthy food options available in the company vending machines. It was found that these interventions helped employees to avoid weight gain and to maintain current weight levels. Although this is encouraging news, it was discovered that these types of environmental interventions were not likely to lead to weight loss.

The study also evaluated the effects of a voluntary, low intensity individual weight management program. Although the program had a high level of participation (approximately 60%), it did not directly lead to weight loss for participants.

Researchers share that although the environmental interventions did not show direct improvements in weight loss, “low-cost environmental interventions provide an opportunity for worksites to encourage weight maintenance and control in the general employee population,” the researchers conclude. They are also calling for further studies to see if more comprehensive worksite programs can succeed in promoting weight loss.

It is evident that companies will have to address the growing issue of our growing bodies. By current estimates, up to 86% of Americans will be overweight and 51% will be obese by 2030. Considering that this epidemic and accompanying medical conditions and costs are preventable, we as people, employers and employees must look at ways to decrease the risk (both financial and injury/illness-related) of unhealthy weight and work towards ways to encourage healthy lifestyles both at work and at home.

Journal Reference: 1. DeJoy DM, Parker KM, Padilla HM, Wilson MG, Roemer EC, Goetzel RZ. Combining environmental and individual weight management interventions in a work setting: results from the Dow Chemical study. J Occup Environ Med. 2010;33(3):245-52.