As part of its year-long campaign addressing chronic disease in the workplace, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is providing tools and resources to help employers identify and respond to the impact of obesity on worker health and productivity. Such resources and tools are of special relevance at this time of the year.
Millions of Americans struggle throughout their lives with obesity - a potentially deadly condition that puts them at a higher risk for numerous health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one-third of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. In addition to adverse or even fatal health outcomes, obesity results in staggering health care costs and reduced workplace productivity. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the annual medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
However, it is important to understand that obesity goes beyond individual lifestyle choices and that employers can work to control this problem on a daily basis by providing a supportive environment through wellness programs that enable healthy lifestyle choices.
"Workplace obesity prevention programs can be an effective way for employers to help their employees improve their lives and at the same time lower health care costs and absenteeism and increase employee productivity," said Barry Eisenberg, ACOEM executive director.
"The weight of our society is undermining the health and productivity of our workforce and bringing our nation to its knees - with the only sustainable solution being to leverage the power of prevention," said Ron Loeppke, MD, MPH, ACOEM President-elect. "ACOEM is committed to providing employers with the resources to promote the healthiest workforce possible through an emphasis on wellness and prevention activities that engage workers and their families to be more proactive about their health," said Dr. Loeppke.
To address obesity in the workplace, ACOEM is making available information on nutrition and weight management as well as practical resources, including a checklist and webinar for employers to learn more about obesity prevention and maintenance programs in the workplace. One such instrument, the Blueprint for Health, provides a free on-line calculator that estimates the overall total health-related costs to employers as well as the impact of specific chronic conditions such as obesity.
This obesity initiative is part of ACOEM's Healthy Workforce Now (HWN) program launched in 2009. The goal of HWN is to build a healthier and safer workforce and integrate workplace health and wellness more effectively with the nation's overall health reform efforts. Healthy Workforce Now advances such action items as establishing a new "national culture of health in the workplace," better access to health care services for workers, a reduction in workplace health disparities, improvements aimed at the workers' compensation system and a stronger national response to environmental health risks.
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine