WASHINGTON – Employers and employees see weight management programs as both appropriate and effective at work,according to a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
In a discussion hosted by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent Obesity Alliance Thursday,panel members said the health ramifications associated with obesity are carrying over into the workplace.
Richard Carmona,health and wellness chairperson for STOP and a former U.S. surgeon general said the business costs are numerous.
“Obesity increases absence,health care costs and depression,and it decreases productivity,” he said.
Overweight and obesity are associated with many chronic diseases,including Type 2 diabetes,hypertension,coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine,obese employees file twice as many workers' compensation claims,have seven times higher medical costs and have 13 times more lost work days than those who are not obese.
The survey,conducted in conjunction with the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services,surveyed two groups. The first was employee-benefit managers with 50 or more workers whose firms offered health insurance. The second was full- or part-time employees ages 18 to 64.
The study revealed that,although almost 70 percent of employers are concerned about the effects of obesity on medical claims expenses,less than half think their company has given enough attention to the issue.
The results also showed an overwhelming desire from both employers and employees to address obesity in the workplace. Specifically,more than 70 percent of employers say offering obesity-related services is appropriate and effective. Four in five employees,regardless of weight,agree that healthful lifestyles and weight-management programs belong in the workplace.
“The workplace is where adults spend the bulk of their time,and employers can play an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles and providing options to overcome overweight and obesity,” said Carmona,in a statement.
National Corporate Wellness of Santa Barbara,Calif.,provides services to thousands of businesses. President Michael Framberger said the company recognizes that promoting weight management in the office is important.
“The work site is an ideal place for weight management,” he said.
Framberger also emphasized that weight management in the workplace is about teaching employees lifestyle changes.
“Statistically,diets don't work,” he said. “There is a 95 percent failure rate. You're not going to get any long-term results that way.”
His company emphasizes nutritious,filling foods.
“It's a matter of education on proper food choice. We want to make sure people are never hungry. We offer nutritional food without the empty calories,” he said.
DMAA: The Care Continuum Alliance,which represents health care providers in Washington,is designing a benefits package for employers and health plans. The Service Employees International Union,which represents 1.5 million workers,many in health care,will have the first chance to use it.
The program will be an optional benefits package that will offer more medical care and nutritional counseling,treatment by obesity specialists and,as a last resort,bariatric surgery to reduce the size of the stomach.
Tracey Moorhead,DMAA president,said she understands that the prototype will have to be adjusted by employers to address the varied cultural and economic factors that cause obesity.
“It's not one size fits all,” she said. “It's designed to be adjusted for the needs of the population.”
Conference participants said it is too soon to predict program costs or how employers and employees might split them.
According to the DMAA,there is no firm start date for the benefits plan,but Louise Milone,administrator at the SEIU health care access trust,said she hopes the plan will be available in some places by the fall.