Ah, the holidays. Wonderful meals with family and friends, gift giving, office parties, and New Year’s resolutions. All too often it’s the wonderful meals part that leads to the New Year’s resolutions. With employers placing more and more emphasis on wellness programs, now seems like a good time to offer tips for healthy eating—and suggestions for workplace weight loss.
Weight is gaining on us
Try as we might, and like it or not, most everyone is going to gain weight as we age. Medical Daily reports that we lose as much as 3–5 percent of muscle mass per decade past age 30. Since muscles burn more calories and keep the body lean, the more muscle mass we lose, the more weight we gain.
For business professional and office workers this is compounded by the fact that we do a great deal of sitting in our careers. Calories that had been converted into energy when we were younger are now converted into fat. The Washington Post noted that on average adults gain one to two pounds a year until age 50. For those who start working at 25, that represents a weight gain of 25–50 pounds by mid-career.
Chronic conditions associated with weight gain include diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure among others. Not surprisingly, employer health care costs tend to be higher the more their employees need treatment for these conditions.
Weight loss in the workplace: What employers can do
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), losing just 5 to 10 percent of total body weight is likely to produce improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugars, and help prevent diabetes. So, how can employers develop weight loss programs that are effective and sustainable?
Organizations such as the CDC, World Health Organization, and Wellness Council of America offer recommendations. The Harvard School of Public Health recaps three of the most effective:
- Adding food and fitness to workplace wellness programs. Focus on nutrition and physical activity behaviors. Use educational, behavioral counseling, or environmental change strategies. Offer weight-management programs, health screenings, or health risk assessments. Take an integrated approach addressing occupational health and safety as well as health promotion.
- Giving incentives for healthy behavior. Incentives could be financial, time off, employee recognition, or medical plan enhancements, such as coverage for weight loss challenge programs and lower co-pays and premiums. Amount of weight gained or lost should not be used as a basis for incentives or penalties.
- Creating a healthy food environment. Provide healthy food and beverages in cafeterias and vending machines. Limit access to sugar-sweetened beverages. Adopt healthy food policies for meetings.
The Harvard Business Review reports that a similar program for the local transportation authority in Austin resulted in an ROI of nearly $2.50 for every dollar spent. For other ideas, check out Practical Guidance for Implementing Weight Control Programs in the Workplace from the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH).
Three case studies
A 2016 report from the NEBGH featured three case studies where employers embarked on weight loss programs for employees.
- Montefiore Medical Center. Since 2012, more than 800 employees have seen a registered dietitian and attended group classes that promoted healthy lifestyle skills. New York-based Montefiore also provides access to group-based lifestyle weight-loss programs such as the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program. Sixty percent of participants in this program recently lost more than five percent of their body weight.
- Aetna. Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a cluster of conditions—high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol—associated with being overweight. Employees with MetS have lower workplace productivity and 1.6 times annual health costs. Through a virtual coaching program, 75 percent of participants lost an average of 10 pounds after one year, with improvement in triglycerides and HDLs. Participants also generated savings of $122 per participant per month in health care costs.
- Public Service Enterprise Group. This New Jersey-based utility company’s employees are 85 percent male and work in a highly technical environment. Seventy-three percent of them are overweight or obese and more likely to have safety issues or file a workers compensation claim. A one-year program focused on weight loss and habit formation. Ninety-two employees lost over 800 pounds collectively.
What Kaiser Permanente is doing to help foster weight loss
Through its Healthwise Knowledgebase, Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health) provides information on such topics as weight-loss surgery, health problems associated being overweight, weight-management guidelines, and more.
In addition to discounts to NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, we have discounts to four other weight-loss programs. Two in particular would be of interest to your employees. Power Up is a 16-week healthy-living and weight-loss program for women. And Man Up is an online weight-loss program designed for guys. Information on each can be found at www.globalfit.com/kpwa.
Kaiser Permanente also offers free workshops on Living Well with Chronic Conditions. These six-week workshops are offered in person or online, and are often conducted by people suffering from chronic conditions themselves. Participants learn how to manage their conditions and improve their quality of life.