A startling finding from a recent study on employee and employer attitudes toward obesity was that only 2% of the participants considered themselves obese while 26% of those surveyed met or exceeded the body mass index criteria for obesity. Perhaps overcoming denial is the first step in dealing with obesity as well.
The study was conducted by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, whose website has a wealth of information about obesity. STOP notes that obesity costs up to $45 billion annually in medical expenses and work loss and that absenteeism accounts for approximately 30% of this cost.
Among the studies other findings are:
· Nearly 90% of employees believe worksite exercise facilities and healthy food in the cafeteria help to achieve and/or maintain a healthier weight;
· Employees, especially obese employees, strongly support financial incentives to participate in workplace wellness and obesity programs. More than three quarters support health insurance premium discounts or other incentives for participating in health risk appraisals, 70% for participating in weight management programs, and 66% for participating in health coaching; and
· Involvement in employee weight issues presents an ethical dilemma for employers. 68% of the 154 human resource professionals in the survey believe a company does not have the right to regulate employees’ weight but nearly half favor an obesity surcharge for health insurance.
Obesity is sometimes referred to as “the next smoking,” meaning that once employers have programs in place to address the additional workplace costs of smokers, implementing programs dealing with the increased costs related to obesity is next. The STOP report refers to a 2007 study entitled “Obesity and Workers’ Compensation: Results from the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System,” which studied the relationship between obesity and workers compensation. The study suggested that obese employees (1) file twice as many workers comp claims, (2) have seven times higher medical costs, and (3) 13 times more lost work days than non-obese employees. Those are three good reasons for employers to consider implementing obesity and wellness programs.