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Weight Management

Why Employers Care

As of 2012, 34.9% of American adults and 16.9% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.1 A 2008 study found obese adults had, on average, about 41.5% higher health care expenses per person than normal-weight adults. This excess expense increased private health care spending by nearly 10% (more than $147 billion).2

Children and adolescents are responsible for 14.7% of a typical large employer's health care costs.3,4 Compared to non-obese children, obese children are three times more likely to be hospitalized and have greater use of physician services.5 Obese children are more likely to miss more days of school, which can result in tardiness or absence of parents and caregivers.6

Reducing obesity and promoting healthy weight may mitigate the detrimental effects of diagnosed diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease on an employee, reduce the overall health care costs shared by the employer and employee, and positively impact both productivity and personal well-being.

What Can Employers Do?

Weight management has become a societal issue and as such extends beyond the workplace; at the same time, it is widely recognized that employers play a key role in supporting and sustaining healthy weight. A culture of health is reinforced by:

  • requiring employees to take personal responsibility for their health and using incentives to promote wellness programs and other health improvement resources;

  • providing an environment that supports and values health (e.g. facilities that encourage walking and other physical activity; policies and practices that promote flex time for exercise, stretch breaks and corporate nutrition standards to ensure healthy dining; and careful attention to ongoing operations/activities to ensure advancement of health and weight management objectives);

  • leveraging the power of leading by example, when corporate and site leaders demonstrate their own personal commitment to healthy lifestyles, visibly support employee engagement in wellness activities, and publicly recognize employee successes.

In addition, employers can work with their health plans and other partners to implement best available weight management behavioral interventions and coaching programs for employees and dependents, requiring outcome data collection and reporting to build the evidence base for program effectiveness.

Newly approved drug therapies for obesity along with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) 2012 recommendations on screening and management of obesity for adults, and the anticipated 2016 recommendations for children and adolescents will require employer attention. This is due to the prevalence of obesity in the employed population and the cost implications of treatment.

Other Resources:

References (show references)

1 Ogden C, Carroll M, Kit B, and Flegal, K., Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814.

2 Finkelstein E, Trogdon J, Cohen J, Dietz W. Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer and service-specific estimates, Health Affairs. 2009:28(5) w822-w831.

3 Mercer Health & Benefits Consulting. National survey of employer-sponsored health plans: 2005 survey report. 2006.

4 National Business Group on Health. Childhood Obesity: It's Everybody's Business. Washington, DC: National Business Group on Health; 2011.

5 Marder W, Chang S. Childhood obesity: costs, treatment patterns, disparities in care, and prevalent medical conditions. Thomson Medstat Research Brief. December 2005.

6 Li Y, Raychowdhury S, Tedders SH, Lyn R, Lòpez-De Fede A, Zhang J. Association between increased BMI and severe school absenteeism among US children and adolescents: findings from a national survey, 2005–2008. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012;36:517-523.

Page last updated: August 14, 2015

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