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The Costs of Obesity: How to Battle this Wicked Problem

Claims Assistant at HNI

From a risk management perspective, obesity is one little word that wrecks a whole lot of havoc for a company. Some tend to think about this as an issue for employee benefits professionals - but the impact reaches much further than just health insurance expenses. This disease can permeate a business culture, drive claim costs up, and ultimately decrease a business’s profit margin. 

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the costs to U.S. businesses related to obesity exceed a shocking $13 billion each year.

That’s a whole lot of moolah we do not want to see your business part with!

Here are a few quick tips to combat the costs of obesity and the issues that impact your business:obesityatwork

1. Eliminate Obesogenic Environments

An obesogenic environment is an environment that has been designed to encourage behaviors that promote obesity. An example would be an environment that only has work spaces designed for sedentary work.

Studies show that workers who have sedentary jobs sit around 13 hours a day. 

One of the easiest ways to improve the office environment is by offering alternative options to the traditional “desk job.” Some changes that top employers are implementing are onsite workout equipment for employee use or treadmill desk work stations.

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Some simpler solutions could be to offer work areas that condone employees to work while standing, such as an area with café style tables or even a high top counter space. Another easy solution would be encouraging employees to participate in lunch time running or walking groups.

2. Protect your business from injury 

Accidents happen.  However, accidents involving someone who is obese can drive the recovery cost up by 7 times! 

The biggest contributor to this cost inflation is that injured workers who are obese often have additional co-morbid conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease even cancer, making their recovery that much more costly to execute.

But the business costs of obesity don't stop there. There have even been instances where employers have been on the hook for coving the cost of an employee’s weight loss surgery after an employee was injured on the job as part of the prescribed recovery plan for that injury.

If obesity seems to be present among your office environment, there are a few things you can do to avoid any accidents. Regular inspection of equipment, and replacement at signs of deterioration are simple solutions that protect you from costly medical bills down the road.

And make sure your office equipment is rated properly for the people who are using them. Common items like desk chairs, step ladders, and even toilets have a maximum weight capacity that should not be exceeded to use safely - generally around 250-300 lbs. There are higher weight rated commercial office items available to replace current toilets, chairs or ladder being used if you have a heavier workforce using them. This investment now could combat costly medical bills from injury in the future.

3. Build your wellness culture to manage the costs of obesity

Ever notice how when you make one healthy decision, like skipping the box of doughnuts in the office kitchen, you tend to be more dedicated to making additional healthy decisions, like maybe ordering a salad for lunch? We encourage you to employ the same concept in your work environment.

Encourage employees to participate in your company’s wellness program (if you don't have one yet -- we can help you!)  Simple incentives can go a long way. Office challenges like biggest weight loss or highest step count are easy enough to execute, and can help build awareness for a need to get healthy.

Another quick idea is a vending machine makeover. Eliminate some of the unhealthy options like sodas, chips and pretzels and add alternatives like infused or flavored waters, nuts, yogurts, and fruit or veggie snack packs.

4. Have a balance

Encouraging your workforce to improve their work/life balance impacts obesity as well. Having better balance encourages employees to take care of themselves, provides opportunity to get adequate rest/exercise, make healthier meal choices (rather than hurried meals over a keyboard), and reduce stress levels.

It has also been proven that employees with healthy work/life balance are more creative, focused and efficient in their work while they are in the office.

The costs of obesity are a big wicked problem that is not going away anytime soon. But with some simple changes your company could avoid costly accidents, keep money in your pockets, and empower your employees to have a healthier future.


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Topics: Safety / Compliance