Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Waistlines Expand Into a Workplace Issue

“Nearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the percentage of adults classified as obese doubled from 1980 to 2000 to 31 percent of the population. In their capacity as health insurance providers, employers pay heavily for obesity’s spread. Obesity accounted for 27 percent of the rise in medical costs from 1987 to 2001, according to research by Kenneth Thorpe, a professor of public health at Emory University, and three colleagues. Obesity costs companies $45 billion a year, according to a report by the Conference Board and RTI International, a research institute. Obese people tend to miss work more often and tend to be less mobile on the job than their thinner counterparts. Obesity is also a more powerful trigger for chronic health problems than either smoking or heavy drinking, according to research by Roland Sturm, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation. American employers may also believe that obesity is not their problem to solve, particularly in industries with high employee turnover. ‘For most companies, it’s not a smart business move,’ said Eric Finkelstein, director of the public health economics program at RTI. ‘Putting on a public health hat, you might say it’s unfortunate that companies don’t do more for employees. But it doesn’t make sense from an employer’s point of view.’ Still, companies can — and a few do — take cost-effective steps to encourage employees to lose weight and keep it off. Several studies indicate that simple cash incentives, like payments to employees for completing questionnaires assessing their health, discounts at health clubs, reduced health insurance premiums, can all help.”


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