Employer Solutions | 4 years ago

Fighting Obesity in the Workplace

Obesity in the workplace can lead to lost productivity and increased healthcare costs. Here are some simple tips to encourage employees to lead a healthy lifestyle. 

You woke up late and had to rush out of the house on your way to work. You didn’t even have time to make coffee, let alone think about cooking a healthy breakfast. When you arrive at the office, you find a box of donuts in the community kitchen. Hunger tempts you to take one, but you decide to look for a healthier option. You make your way to the convenience store in the lobby of your office building where you find a selection of candy bars, chips and sugary drinks. What is the health-conscious employee to do?

This scenario is all too common at American worksites, and the truth is that it doesn’t promote a healthy lifestyle, but instead contributes to the American obesity epidemic. Battling temptation every day in the office can make staying in shape more difficult, which ultimately leads to higher healthcare costs, increased absence from work and lost productivity.

As a culture, we spend most of our lives working and sleeping. With so much time spent at work, office culture is a great place to encourage healthy decision-making and fight back against obesity. Your company can establish practices that promote good health instead of diminishing it. Here are some tips to help you fight obesity in the workplace and contribute positively to the overall health of your employees.

Taking a holistic approach

The most effective programs provide more than one-off solutions. Just as staying in shape is a lifestyle, a workplace culture that fosters healthy decision-making means the office needs to encourage a healthy lifestyle at every juncture. A top-down approach beginning with management is a great place to begin your plan for providing workers with the information, skills and support to be more active and eat healthier. This can include nutrition classes, on-site exercise facilities and changing rooms, access to nutritionists and other counselors, and worksite or company-wide policies that provide healthier food options and reimburse exercise-related expenses.

Food and fitness

Healthy eating and routine exercise are pillars of a healthy lifestyle, and supporting them at work can help employees lose weight. Consider beginning with health-screening programs such as biometric screenings or health risk assessments to help employees benchmark health risk levels. Once a benchmark is established, work with employees to set goals for focusing on nutrition behaviors and physical activity behaviors. Some organizations go a step further and provide behavioral counseling, education or environmental change strategies.

Incentivizing healthy behavior

Employers can use various “carrots” to encourage healthy behavior at work. Consider tying rewards to behavior change, not to weight. And never stigmatize or penalize employees who don’t reach their goals. The World Health Organization recommends offering incentives such as days off, employee recognition and financial or medical plan enhancements to promote healthy behaviors, such as participation in physical activity.

Encourage physical activity at work

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week for good health and weight control. By creating a work environment that weaves activity into the workday, and into the daily commute, worksites can help employees meet their exercise goals. Some employers provide walking paths or on-site gyms; others allow breaks or flexible work time for participation in physical activity. Additional ways to promote more movement include promoting the use of stairs with signs or by making stairwells attractive places to be, promoting “active” transport to work such as biking or walking and providing bicycle storage for people who bike to work.

There are numerous ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle for employees and fight obesity in the workplace, which ultimately leads to a healthier workforce and a reduction in healthcare-related costs for employers and employees alike. There’s never been a better time to get creative and come up with an employee wellness plan for your organization!