Obesity Costs Employers More than $12 Billion Annually

Employers might want to think twice about offering employees donuts with their morning coffee. Obesity has been declared an epidemic in the workplace by the Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH), which says the problem costs employers more than $12 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

WBGH has launched the Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity to help corporate America reduce the impact of obesity and weight-related conditions in the workplace. The institute will explore the epidemic of obesity, propose solutions and strategies, and serve as a catalyst for change.

"Obesity has a devastating impact on the health of employees and, by extension, on their employers," said Vince Kerr, a physician and director of Health Care Management at Ford Motor Co., one of the founding members of the institute. "Organizations lose more than $12 billion per year due to higher health care utilization rates, lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, elevated health and disability insurance premiums and other consequences associated with obesity and weight-related conditions. Addressing this growing epidemic has never been more critical."

The institute will serve as a reliable resource for large employers on the health and cost repercussions of obesity and related chronic conditions. Additionally, the group will identify effective strategies to decrease the incidence of obesity among U.S. workers and will develop and disseminate clear messages that stress obesity's preventable nature as well as its role in physical and mental health.

"Research has shown that the overall impact of obesity on health and costs outweighs even that of smoking," said Helen Darling, president of WBGH. "As a result, no company in America can afford to ignore the problem of obese and overweight employees. High obesity rates among children, changing workforce demographics and the upward trajectory of health care costs mean employers' obesity-related direct medical costs and indirect costs of lost productivity will continue to escalate unless we take concerted action to support workers' efforts to reduce obesity and choose healthier lifestyles."

The first offering from the institute is an Employer Toolkit report on weight management that offers ways to support employees' desires to have healthier lifestyles. Additional institute projects and initiatives planned for the next two years include a national weight awareness initiative, issue briefs, an online resource center and a corporate summit that will bring large employers together to discuss obesity-related challenges and share effective solutions and strategies.

"Ultimately, every company in the United States can and should play a role in combating the obesity epidemic. Even small, inexpensive initiatives such as providing nutritional information in company cafeterias or encouraging workers to take the stairs contribute to worker health. The payoff for undertaking activities that reduce obesity is tremendous and the launch of the institute will make identifying and implementing effective strategies easier," said Darling.

Additional information about the institute is available at www.wbgh.org.

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