Obesity and Productivity: The Link & How Firms Can Take Action

Recent research suggests a link between obesity and absenteeism. This research indicates that absenteeism (about 3-7 extra days per year) linked to obesity leads to a loss of productivity that costs the nation more than eight billion annually. In light of this information, many companies and organizations wonder how to take action. Wellness programs are already known to increase productivity and are the next sensible step for any business that wants to support employee wellness and increase productivity. 

What is the Link Between Obesity and Productivity?

Research demonstrates higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism among overweight and obese populations. Absenteeism is when an employee is absent from work. Presenteeism is when an employee is present at work but less productive. There is an increased use of sick days among these populations, so in short, there is a direct link between being overweight and both missing more work days and being less productive at work. The reason for some of these findings is the other health conditions, like diabetes, that are associated with obesity. Injury due to obesity also contributed to the use of more sick days. The estimated amount of lost productivity each year is an estimated $270-$540 per obese employee. 

The study from Cornell University used analysis of national survey data to study the effects of obesity and productivity. The survey included information on 50,000 employed adults ages 20 to 65. Obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30kg or higher, and the survey reported that 1/3 of those surveyed were obese. 

Increased absenteeism and presenteeism are far from the only risks associated with obesity. The health risks related to this condition are considerable. Rates of cardiovascular disease are higher among the obese, as is diabetes. In fact, fatal heart events are more likely to occur in the obese. Elevated cholesterol and hypertension are also common, as are liver and kidney issues, osteoarthritis, and obstructive sleep apnea. While a workplace wellness program might be designed with the intent of increasing productivity, there will be a cascade of positive effects for those who participate. 

How Can Firms Take Action on Obesity and Productivity?

The workplace holds unique potential to support its employees and their weight management, most simply because people spend so much of their time at work. And according to Aflac insurance, 53% of employees would participate in an exercise program through their workplace. The goals of companies and their employees are the same; employees want to be healthy, and they want support to do so. 

One highly effective method for companies to support healthy weight management is through a wellness program. A good wellness program is customized to an individual company and creates success by addressing weaknesses and supporting strengths. And better yet, wellness programs have a myriad of benefits beyond improving productivity. Wellness programs:

  1. Increase employee motivation.

  2. Increase job satisfaction.

  3. Increase wellness and overall health.

  4. Reduce healthcare costs.

Wellness programs leverage the power of teamwork by using challenges and playful competition to support employees in reaching wellness goals. Here are some examples of wellness challenges used in workplaces across the nation:

  1. A steps or walking challenge; invites activities like walking meetings, walking on lunch breaks, and talking to a co-worker in person instead of emailing.

  2. A weight management contest, with the prize being something fun, like movie tickets.

  3. Holiday weight challenge; co-workers come together to maintain healthy habits over the holidays.

  4. A BMI improvement challenge is similar to a weight management contest but uses the Body Mass Index instead for measuring.

  5. A daily habits challenge is easily customizable by individual employees, which makes it both highly useful and accessible.

  6. Gym time challenges are highly effective if the workplace has a gym or offers gym memberships as a perk.

  7. Plank contests are a popular activity in many workplace wellness programs.

  8. Everyone’s favorite wellness event is a field day! Playing fitness games improves teamwork, reduces stress, improves mood and mental health, and is just fun. 

If your company is looking to increase productivity, then a wellness challenge will support that in more ways than supporting healthy weight management. Working with the workplace wellness experts at BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS) will help your organization make the most out of its wellness challenges. They can offer expert help with cultivating a wellness culture within your business. Reach out to BHS with any questions you have or to get started!

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