Is there any correlation between skyrocketing health-care costs and the nation’s expanding beltline? Many would say yes. Obesity is becoming a national health crisis, and the effects definitely spill over into the workplace. The costs to businesses are astronomical. According to an article in Knowledge @ Wharton Efforts Are Growing to Trim the Fat from Employees — and Employers’ Health Care Costs:

“Obesity and overweight conditions contribute as much as $93 billion to the nation’s yearly medical bill, according to studies reviewed by the National Business Group on Health, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that represents large companies. Of that amount, the total cost of obesity to U.S. companies is estimated at more than $13 billion per year — a price tag that includes $8 billion for added health insurance costs, $2.4 billion for paid sick leave, $1.8 billion for life insurance and $1 billion for disability insurance. According to recent studies on the economic cost of workplace obesity, that translates into 39 million lost work days, 239 million days where work activity is restricted, 90 million sick days or days in bed and 63 million visits to physicians.”

The article goes on to discuss some steps employers are taking to fight obesity in the work force, ranging from mild to aggressive intervention programs. It can be a delicate matter – many employers we encounter are a little reluctant to encroach on “lifestyle” areas that may involve personal choice. But what we don’t understand is why more employers don’t take the first steps to a healthier work force by taking advantage of fitness and wellness programs offered by benefits companies, many of them free.
Here are a few of the reasons we hear:

  • We have had staff reductions so we can’t afford to let our employees go to a gym during the day.
  • We don’t have a budget for it.
  • We let our employees know about these benefits but they don’t use them.

There are more excuses, but you get the point. But the long-term benefits of a healthier staff more than outweigh (heh) the cost. Healthier employees:

  • Have more energy and can accomplish more in a day.
  • Take fewer sick days
  • Lower insurance costs
  • Have healthier attitudes and improve moral

Here are some tips for promoting a successful wellness program:

  • Lead by example: get involved in a fitness program yourself and talk it up.
  • Promote, promote, promote: the more information you put in front of your employees, the more likely you will get buy in.
  • Make it fun: Some companies use contests and incentives.
  • Take advantage of all the free stuff: Check your health insurer and EAP to see what they what programs they offer, along with any incentives and promotional information.

This has to start at the top. As with just about any other initiative, if the president of the company doesn’t make it a priority, it’s not likely to succeed.

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