According to the CDC, 36.5% of adults in the United States fall into the obese category.
Obesity is estimated to cost employers an additional:
- $1400 in medical care costs per employee per year (PEPY)
- $600 in pharmacy claims PEPY
- $506 in productivity loss PEPY
It does not take long for businesses to apply these numbers to their workforce and realize that they are fighting their own war on weight. What takes longer is figuring out how to win it.
Workplaces often default to onsite body mass index (BMI) screenings, Weight Watchers® at Work, incentives to lose weight, etc.
Though such initiatives might benefit employees in the short term, most fall short in truly helping people overcome their struggle with weight long term. In fact, they might be doing more harm than good.
In the review article, “The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss,”researchers point out that:
- Data does not support the claim that higher BMI causes poor health
- Prioritizing weight in health bestows negative judgments onto higher-weight individuals by promoting the view that such individuals are unhealthy, a burden to society, and have poor lifestyle habits
- Promoting “healthy weight” as the key to health may instill a sense of learned helplessness in many people who are unable to attain weight-based goals
In their article titled Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift researchers Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor explain that overweight and moderately obese people live as long as, if not longer, than normal weight people. They challenge the popular notion that anyone who is determined can lose weight and keep it off through appropriate diet and exercise… pointing out that almost all weight loss is regained within 5 years. And they’ve found that focusing on weight leads to weight cycling, which reduces bone mass and increases pollutants associated with type 2 diabetes, CVD, and rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention promotes disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, stigmatization, and discrimination… which ultimately leads to an increase in weight gain over time.
This leaves employers with a real and expensive dilemma.
On one hand, the majority of their people struggle with weight and many would welcome help to overcome it. On the other hand, focusing on weight may backfire.
Is there a solution?
First, start by taking the focus off of weight; put it on personal well-being instead. Second, promote strategies such as intuitive eating, pleasurable physical activity, and size acceptance. Third, allow people to do health their own way, at their own pace. Fourth, resist the urge to offer “more” wellness resources; instead, find and offer the “right” ones. Finally, get health professionals on your team who have a deep understanding of corporate wellness and the sensitive issue at hand, can reach employees and their families, and can provide the direction required so that the employer and the people – together – can win their war on weight without the fight.
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