Workplace Obesity Prevention Programs Work

In a comprehensive study conducted just three years ago, the annual healthcare cost of obesity in the United States was estimated to be as high as 147 billion dollars a year. The annual medical burden of obesity had increased to 9.1 percent compared to 6.5 percent when measured in 1998. In fact, medical expenses for obese employees are estimated to be 42 percent higher than for a person with a healthy weight. So, even though an employee’s weight can be a sensitive topic, workplace obesity-prevention programs are effective ways for employers to reduce obesity and lower their healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, and increase employee productivity.

What is the cost of obesity to your organization?

Obesity and the health conditions associated with it, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and certain types of cancer are responsible for much of the increase in healthcare spending by employers. Obese persons spend 77 percent more money for necessary medications than non-obese persons.

It is estimated that employers spend $13 billion annually on the total cost of obesity. But obesity affects more than healthcare costs — it also has a significant impact on worker productivity because the more chronic medical conditions an employee has, the higher the probability of absenteeism or increased presenteeism (when an employee is physically present but ill or not at the top of “their game.”)

Organizations can benefit directly by improving employee health through wellness programs that include an obesity-prevention component. A survey of CEOs found that “healthier employees” is the number-one reason why companies choose to implement health promotion programs. Additionally, well-designed programs have the potential to extend beyond the worksite and positively influence dependents (spouses and children), and thereby reduce an organization’s overall healthcare costs.

Although it may seem that only large organizations can implement obesity-prevention and control programs, organizations of all sizes have done so successfully. Many types of organizations, including those with few employees and resources, are implementing successful obesity prevention programs.

Why should employers get involved?

Potential benefits to employers for initiating obesity-education efforts include:

  • Reduced cost for chronic diseases
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Reduced employee turnover
  • Improved recruiting efforts
  • Increased worker satisfaction
  • Demonstrated concern for your employees
  • Improved morale

Potential benefits to your employees include:

  • Greater productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Improved fitness and health
  • Additional social opportunities and source of support within the workplace

“CDC’s LEAN Works! Leading Employees to Activity and Nutrition” is a free web-based resource that offers interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design effective worksite obesity-prevention and control programs. It includes an Obesity Cost Calculator  that lets you calculate your company’s ROI. The tool allows employers to create scenarios to estimate the financial impact of specific obesity interventions, including the costs, benefits, and time required to break even.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!