The Well-Being Journal

Is Your Boss Making You Fat?

Jennifer Rudloff

Are you overweight or obese? How about the person sitting next to you? What about the other side? Chances are your answer to two out of three of these questions is “yes.” The reason is, two out of three (67%) Americans are overweight or obese. I don’t know how that makes you feel but it makes me disappointed for two reasons. 1.) I am a 35 year veteran of health promotion; some days stats like this make me feel like the cancer researcher who studied the disease for 35 years and retired never finding a cure. 2.) It’s something within people’s control, yet, we’ve failed to motivate individuals to control it. To me that’s a sad commentary on America, a country that made itself great by our work ethic, motivation, and fortitude.

Add obesity to chronic illness (many of the same behaviors that cause obesity also cause chronic illness) and things get worse for corporate America. 86% of America’s full-time workforce is overweight or has a chronic health condition. This causes an estimated 450 million lost work days each year resulting in a cost of more than $153 billion annually in lost productivity, according to findings released yesterday and included in EBN . To contrast, this is four times higher than our friends across the pond in the UK. If you include part time workers and other measures of presenteeism, the picture gets much worse. "Other research that has examined a broader array of factors using a somewhat different list of chronic conditions places the economic effect of lost productivity at $1.1 trillion per year," the study said.

It’s interesting to look at the evolution of knowledge over the years: In graduate school I was taught that weight was all about metabolism; balance the calories taken in with the calories burned and the problem of maintaining a healthy weight is solved. Later I learned it wasn’t that easy. Things like stress cause hormonal changes that influence our propensity to gain weight. OK, that made sense. However, recent findings from the Well-Being Index and Well-Being Assessment are a little more intriguing. We can show that the financial resources a person has available or the amount of recognition you get at work have as high a correlation to Body Mass Index, as does your eating and physical activity behaviors. So, perhaps a bad boss can make you fat, even if indirectly.

While we don’t yet understand exactly how this works, it it seems to go something like this. People who have emotional or social burdens, such as a frustrating work environment, lack of time to spend with their friends, care-giving responsibilities for a close relative, financial problems, or marital strife simply have less time, energy, interest, and propensity to follow the behaviors that result in a healthy weight. So, a less than supportive boss may not make you fat directly, but it is a factor in an employee’s ability, or lack of ability, to take good care of him or herself. So, an organization with a lot of bad bosses can experience significant negative impact from having an overweight or obese population that manifests itself in poor physical health, as well as the poor business performance of the organization.

We have implemented a number of strategies with our own people that appear to be producing results. Things like providing our colleagues the option of walking workstations, and having healthy food options in our cafe (and no fryers). We have workout Wednesdays where people can dress for fitness all day, and attend one of our many fitness classes at work. While some of these ideas may not be practical in your company, many things are. Humans make thousands of mini-decisions all day and helping people be mindful of how to make the healthy choice the easy choice can pay big dividends. For instance, if you can help your people be mindful of making the high calorie burn choice their action of choice, sustainable weight loss can be achieved. Using the stairs rather than the elevators and escalators 10 times a day burns 60 more calories. 60 more calories burned for every workday, minus vacation time, results in about 5 pounds of weight loss per year. To make it even easier for people, dress up the stairwells. Hang paintings, play music, and paint the walls bright colors – use your creativity.

Obesity is a huge issue in the US and I don’t want to trivialize what it takes to improve it. However, it isn’t rocket science either. Do you have a creative idea? If so, share it with us.

Topics: Healthy Living Obesity Weight Loss Workplace Well-Being Business Performance Health Promotion Prevention Chronic Disease Boss Making you fat? Overweight Lost Productivity

National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy

Jennifer Rudloff

Today members of the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council, will release the National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy. This marks the beginning of America’s movement away from a healthcare system that focuses on the sick and chronically diseased, in favor of a system that will put emphasis on prevention and wellness and will help to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.

Today, 70% of chronic disease is preventable and nearly ½ of all adults have at least one chronic disease. Healthcare.gov states, “Focusing on preventing disease and illness before they occur will create healthier homes, workplaces, schools and communities so that people can live long and productive lives and reduce their healthcare costs.” Every American has a role in creating a healthier nation. Our communities, and economy will reap the rewards.

The National Prevention Strategy includes actions for the public and private sectors. The strategy outlines four strategic directions and they are as follows:

  • Build Healthy and Safe Community Environments: Prevention of disease starts in our communities and at home; not just in the doctor's office.
  • Expand Quality Preventive Services in Both Clinical and Community Settings: When people receive preventive care, such as immunizations and cancer screenings, they have better health and lower health care costs.
  • Empower People to Make Healthy Choices: When people have access to actionable and easy-to-understand information and resources, they are empowered to make healthier choices.
  • Eliminate Health Disparities: By eliminating disparities in achieving and maintaining health, we can help improve quality of life for all Americans.

So what? This is an important step for our nation. For the first time, we are seeing a visible commitment to health and well-being and a national strategy to that includes both the public and the private sectors working together to create positive change. Also, the government has a collaborative strategy in which 17 federal agencies will work together! This will help to assure cost savings and quality improvement for our citizens.

To read more about the announcement, visit:
www.HealthCare.gov/news/factsheets/prevention06162011a.html.

Topics: Healthy Living Well-Being In the News Healthcare Health Promotion Community Prevention National Prevention Health Promotion National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy Public Health Council Preventative Services Government Health Conditions