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June 16, 2006
Positively Confront Employees' Weight Issues and Health Risks

You may have read this before, but it bears repeating since it affects the health of your workforce and your employee benefits costs: Americans are becoming more overweight each year.

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In fact, Thomas B. Gilliam, Ph.D., co-author of Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy, explains in his book that "normal weight" employees made up about 33 percent of the workforce in 2000 and only 23 percent of the workforce in 2005. He also states that employees who would be considered obese comprised 29 percent of the workforce in 2000 and 37 percent in 2005.

Note: A person whose body mass index, or BMI, is 30 or more is considered obese. Individuals' BMI are calculated as their weight in pounds divided by the square of their height in inches, then multiplied by 703.

Gilliam also points out that obesity costs employers plenty, and with the number of obese employees growing, the cost will continue to go up.

He says that the average cost of a worker's disability claim caused by obesity in 2004 was $51,000 per year.

Ways to Help

Here are a few tips that Gilliam covers in his book to assist you in jogging your employees into developing a healthier lifestyle and maintaining healthy weights:

  • Broach the subject in terms of overall health, not just weight. Remind people that losing weight may help them ward off future health problems such as hip and knee replacements, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly cancer.
  • Be inclusive. Don't just single out obese people. Offer a wellness program that emphasizes lifestyle changes--eating healthful, nutritious foods and engaging in regular exercise.
  • Teach employees the basics of weight loss and get them excited about good nutrition. Encourage employees to share healthy recipes or take turns bringing in fresh fruits, vegetable trays, or other low-fat snacks to share.
  • Foster employee exercise groups. People are more likely to sustain an exercise program--walking, running or aerobics--when they have company during their workouts.

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