Two critical tasks in managing any business are to control costs and maximize productivity. Many business owners feel confident that they’re doing all they can in both of these areas. However, if employers aren’t considering the shape their employees are in, they are missing a huge piece of the puzzle that might be affecting both costs and productivity adversely.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26.1% of American adults were obese in 2008, compared with 25.6% in 2007. If we count Americans who are either overweight or obese, a staggering two out of three fit the bill. These statistics become of even greater concern for business owners when you add the findings of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) survey entitled “Prevention Makes Common Cents: Estimated Economic Costs of Obesity to U.S. Business.”� DHHS discovered that the total cost of obesity to U.S. companies is estimated at $13 billion per year. Health insurance costs related to obesity comprise the largest percentage of the total coming in, at a whopping $8 billion.
Of course, increased insurance costs isnâ€™t the only story here. The ballooning American waistline is the cause of 39 million lost work days; 239 million restricted activity days; 90 million bed days; and 63 million physician visits; numbers which add up to an immense drain on productivity.
What can employers do to combat this growing problem? Start with some suggestions offered by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine:
- Offer healthy choices in cafeterias and/or vending machines.
- Provide nutritional information for cafeteria selections.
- Provide healthier snacks at meetings and other employee events. For example, serve fruit, popcorn, and low-fat yogurt, rather than doughnuts or pastries.
- Provide bottled water in the vending areas or cafeteria.
- Institute a workplace wellness program that provides mechanisms to aid employees in adopting healthy lifestyles.
- Provide educational material on the health risks of being overweight and how to eat healthier.
- Encourage the use of stairways instead of elevators by placing signs near the elevator and stairs highlighting the health benefits of stair use. Ensure that stairways are accessible and are lighted properly.
- Discourage employees from eating at their desks. Even a short walk to the cafeteria/lunch room can be helpful.
- Support physical activity breaks during the workday.
- Allow employees enough time for lunch so that they can walk or use the gym.
Although there might be an initial cost associated with implementing these provisions, the ROI will prove that the expense was well worth it when employers begin to see the improvements in productivity and the decline in obesity-related health claims. Even more important than these two benefits are the residual benefits received from implementing these changes. When employees see that their employers care enough to provide not just a safe workplace, but also a healthy workplace, these gestures encourage a real sense of loyalty that will ultimately translate into a healthy boost to everyone’s bottom line.