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Employers Can Help Reduce Obesity

July 3 2009 - A telephone survey of American adults (1018 men and 1045 women) in full-time employment during 2007 found that many could eat more healthily and be more active while at work and employers could help reverse current trends by promoting health and wellness in the workplace.

The report by Nationwide Better Health(SM), a leading provider of health and productivity management solutions, cites recent research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, predicting that approximately 75 per cent of American adults will fall into the "overweight" category by 2015. The Centers for Disease Control found work absence rates among obese employees to be almost twice that of other workers, costing employers about US$4 billion annually and a greater sum in lost productivity.

Compdata Surveys' Benefits USA 2008/2009 study found that with obesity rates making headlines across the country, 22% of organizations offered weight management programs. These were mostly available in the healthcare and hospitality industries and were generally more prevalent in organizations employing more than 500 people. As obesity increases the risk of several health conditions, weight management programs can assist disease prevention and healthcare costs. The health problems associated with obesity include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke and respiratory conditions.

Nationwide Better Health key survey findings from 2007 include:

  • Mid-afternoon vending machine break: In addition to normal meals, an unhealthy snack was eaten at work by 72 per cent of respondents at least once a week and by 27 per cent a minimum of three times a week. The percentage eating an unhealthy snack more than five times a week varied with age: 22 per cent of Gen Y (18-27 years), 13 per cent of Gen X (28-44 years), and 9 per cent of Baby Boomers (45+ years). Less than half (42 per cent) of respondents had healthy food options available.

  • The ball and chain?: More than one-third of employees (34 per cent) said their jobs required them to remain at their desks for most of the day: (Gen X - 40 per cent; Baby Boomers - 30 per cent; Gen Y - 27 per cent).

  • Deadline diet: 38 per cent of workers overall (48 per cent of women; 32 per cent of men) agreed that work-related stress led to bad eating habits (Gen X - 45 per cent; Gen Y - 35 per cent; Baby Boomers -32 per cent).
  • Healthy perks: 66 per cent of respondents (74 per cent of women; 60 per cent of men) said they would take advantage of gym memberships, nutrition education and weight management programs if available.

Neil Gordon commented:

"Companies can provide resources that encourage their employees to eat well stay active and, in short, live the best life possible. These resources could not only help reduce health care spending for both employees and employers, but they could also help improve productivity."

Wellness Programs

The Benefits USA 2008/2009 study found that 68.3% of organizations offered wellness programs - an increase of 5.9% over the last four years. More than 70% of organizations with over 500 employees offered wellness programs with Government organizations having the highest percentage (82.1%). Service organizations had the smallest percentage (61.8%).

Nearly 60% of wellness programs included flu shots/immunizations and almost a third provided health risk assessments and tobacco cessation. Annual physicals were offered by 27.4% while onsite nurse or medical staff were provided by just 10.8%.

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