Obesity Prevention On the Job
Work is a reality of life for the vast majority of people across the globe, and little apart from sleep consumes as much time in people’s days. As with school in youth, the workplace is very much a microcosm of the adult world—filled with elements that promote health as well as elements that diminish it. This makes the workplace an ideal, focused, and efficient avenue for improving health and tackling many of the key contributors to the obesity epidemic.
Obesity, with its links to many chronic conditions, is a huge drain on individual as well as corporate health. It can sap productivity, worsen mobility and morale, and increase healthcare claims, sick days, and occupational injuries. (1,2) Programs that focus on workplace obesity prevention have been shown to reverse these trends.
Effective programs take a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on providing workers with the knowledge, skills, and support to eat a healthier diet and be more active. This can include nutrition classes, onsite exercise facilities and changing rooms, access to nutritionists and other counselors, and worksite or company-wide policies that provide healthier food options and reimburse exercise-related expenses.
Less apparent policy changes can also be helpful. While most workplace obesity prevention programs focus on helping to create and sustain behavior change in individuals, growing evidence points to some characteristics of the workplace itself as initiators of weight gain and obesity. Things like job stress, overbooked schedules, few breaks, and nighttime work shifts can promote poor eating and little exercise. (1,2) In most companies, job-related hazards such as these are the domain of occupational health, disconnected from worksite health promotion efforts. (3) Programs, policies, and practices that help mitigate these types of working conditions could further boost obesity prevention activities, as could taking a more integrated, holistic approach to workplace health—one the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “Total Worker Health.” (3,4) The goal is to create a “culture of health,” one that recognizes that worker health and workplace health are intertwined, rather than viewing obesity, job stress, and other personal or work-related health concerns in isolation. (3)
Businesses are always striving to push productivity and curb costs, and many companies—small and large—are realizing that obesity prevention and workplace health promotion programs can have an excellent return on investment. A healthier and happier workforce is also one that helps keep healthcare spending low and productivity high. It’s a win-win that we can’t overlook.
This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for worksites, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Wellness Council of America, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.
Worksite wellness programs that address food and fitness can help employees lose weight.
Employers can use a variety of incentives to promote healthy behaviors. It’s important to tie rewards to behavior change, not to weight.
Offering better-for-you options in the cafeteria, limiting access to sugary beverages, and establishing healthy food policies are some of the ways that worksites can make it easier for employees to eat well during the work day.
Worksites can help employees meet daily activity goals by creating an environment that weaves activity into the workday and the daily commute.
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.