Employers Addressing Workplace Obesity; Issue Remains a Growing Problem, Especially for Small and Mid-Size Employers

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While many US employers are addressing obesity in the workplace, there is still much progress to be made as well as a need for tools and resources, especially among small and mid-size organizations, according to a survey more than 500 employers conducted by the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH), with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Safety Council (NSC). The survey was conducted to better understand the business attitudes and needs concerning obesity prevention and control to identify how best to combat this issue.

The full report including survey responses, conclusions and recommendations for employers can be found on NBCH's website.

The research identified the following trends:

Obesity prevention and weight management is most effective as part of an overall wellness and health promotion program.

Leadership must come from all levels and community partners must work together to bring about improvements.

Employers need better information about how obesity relates to employee safety and to other related health conditions, as well as information on the associated cost burden.

Employers of all sizes already have a variety of wellness program components — even if obesity is not a focal point.

Respondents said they are now investing in obesity prevention and those that are not are interested in what they might do, how to do it, and how to measure success.

Making the connection between safety and wellness is fundamental to addressing a healthy workforce. Employers consistently mentioned the significance of the safety function related to obesity/weight management and wellness in general.

"Given the amount of time an employee is at their place of work, there is an opportunity to positively influence the choices they make about their health," said Andrew Webber, NBCH president and CEO. "A workplace that emphasizes health is more likely to have policies that promote healthy behavior such as incentives and access to health resources. While large employers have been at this for some time, small- to mid-sized employers have been less engaged, but are increasingly seeing the value of these types of programs."

According to a recent study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine led by Duke University, 42 percent of Americans will be obese in 2030. And as the number of overweight Americans reaches epidemic proportions, the associated and costly chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are also rising.

"This project was very helpful to us in understanding the small employer perspective," said Jason Lang, MPH, MS, Team Lead, Workplace Health Programs, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC. "We were able to use findings to inform the development of obesity prevention and control strategies and tools for the CDC National Healthy Worksite Program which is focused on helping small employers build comprehensive workplace health programs."