The total annual economic cost of overweight and obesity in the United States and Canada, in medical, excess mortality and disability costs, has reached $300 billion, according to a report from the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The SOA reviewed 500 separate research articles published over the last three decades on the topics of obesity and overweight, and their connection to various health conditions. Medical conditions with a statistically significant relationship to obesity and overweight include cardiovascular impairments, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.
Looking at the U.S. alone and based on BMI (body mass index) measurements, just over a third of the adult population is considered overweight and nearly another third is considered obese. These figures, overall, represent an increase of about 50% from the early 1960s in the number of Americans who are overweight or obese. As to the impact of overweight and obesity on U.S. businesses, the following data emerged:
- At least 43% of all health care spending by U.S. businesses is associated with obesity. The impact varies considerably by disease, with obesity driving health care spending for diabetes the most.
- Annual workers’ compensation claims costs for overweight employees are 80% higher than for employees with a BMI in the normal range. This increase jumps to 161% for obese employees, and continues to rise with BMI.
- Several studies looked at health care expenditures based on BMI. Not surprisingly, in all cases annual per person health care expenditures rose along with the BMI measurement. One of the studies, which examined data from 1989 to 2002, estimated annual additional medical costs of $1,458 for obese women and $406 for obese men.
- Overweight and obesity increase disability rates, as well as the time needed to recover from disabling medical conditions.
- The total cost attributable to lost productivity from excess death and disability and work-related injuries as a result of overweight and obesity is approximately $177 billion annually in the U.S.
Statistics such as these strengthen the case for making efforts in the workplace to enable and motivate employees to get and stay fit. Such efforts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. Fortunately, there are many inexpensive ways to buck national obesity trends in your workplace.
- Encourage employees to choose the stairs instead of the elevator by making stairwells attractive or using them as a place to post employee photos, brief interesting news articles, or funny anecdotes and comics.
- Hold daily afternoon work breaks, and play 10 minutes of dance music with someone leading the moves, followed by a piece of fruit for everyone.
- Install bike racks in preferred parking positions or permit employees to store their bikes inside the building during the workday.
- Stock vending machines with water and healthy snacks.
- Sponsor a company softball, bowling or soccer team.
- Organize employees to participate as a group in fundraising walks or runs that take place in your community.
- Check with local gyms or fitness facilities for the availability of group discounts for your employees.
- Become an active partner with your health benefits carrier in promoting to employees any wellness, nutrition and/or fitness programs and information that is provided by or covered under your company’s health care plan.
In addition to the potential of improved employee health, a side benefit of many of these ideas is that they can generate employee team building and goodwill. And, happier employees are likely to be healthier, too.