Gaining Weight on the Job? (cont.)

A study appearing in the July/August American Journal of Health Behavior shows that overweight employees cost companies more in terms of days missed at work and medical costs. The findings show that body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in proportion to height -- predicted higher health-care costs and greater absenteeism among workers. The average medical costs for city employees got larger as the employees got bigger. In this analysis done on almost 500 municipal workers in the city of Dallas:

  • Normal-weight employees (BMI <25) cost $114 per year.
  • Overweight employees (BMI 25-30) cost $513 per year.
  • Obese employees (BMI >30) cost $620 per year.

That can add up to a huge tab for a company. Medical expenditures on American employees and dependents exceed $900 billion each year, according to the study.

"Age, gender, race, educational attainment, and smoking all failed to predict obesity-related health-care costs," says researcher Tim Bungum, PhD. "The lone significant predictor of heath-care costs was BMI."

"Obviously, an employee who is here and productive and healthy at work is going to benefit the company more than the employee who's absent or feeling marginally good when they're at work or having other physical problems," says Poll.

A Healthier Employee Is a Happier Employee

With that in mind, other companies such as Xerox have also caught on. "There is value to both the employee and the corporation in providing convenient opportunities for health improvement. Xerox certainly believes that healthy, happy employees are productive employees resulting in lower medical care costs for employees and the company, " Sandi Alexander Tuttle, manager at Xerox Recreation Association, tells WebMD.

Xerox has an on-site exercise facility with yoga, aerobics classes, nutritional seminars, wellness newsletters, and a weight-loss group that meets once a week. The company also offers nutritious snacks in its vending machines and healthy menu items complete with nutritional value information in its cafeterias across the nation.

Other companies are incorporating healthy initiatives, too. After performing a health-risk appraisal among employees at Emory University in Atlanta, the school implemented numerous wellness initiatives. The Carter Center, a division of Emory, has a free gym, personal training workshops, a walking group, and tai chi at the office.

"Offering programs directly for [company] employees is helpful. The bottom line is to educate people and to help people learn how to implement this in their lives. It will save companies money in the long run if they do whatever they need to do to help wellness and disease prevention," says Greer.

Quick Tips for Office Fitness

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a gym at the job or a free nutritionist at his or her beck and call. But there are a few simple things busy professionals can do to burn a few extra calories on the run. Health educator and certified fitness trainer Kristl Buluran helps manage the Health Matters program at the University of California in Berkeley. She specializes in teaching "office workouts." She suggests:

  • Take stairs
  • Park your car farther away from the office
  • Stretch at your desk
  • Keep your desk stocked with low-fat, low-calorie snacks to prevent vending machine binges
  • Take the long route to the restroom
  • Walk over to co-workers instead of calling or emailing

Experts say that wellness is about more than weight management: It's about the total picture of treating mind, body, and soul. With heart disease being the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., maybe more companies will soon mix in a Pilates session or two to help balance out that next afternoon pizza break.

Published Sept. 5, 2003.
Reviewed by Michael Smith, MD.

SOURCES: Jack Poll, recreation and employees services manger, SAS, Cary, N.C. Cathy Greer, MPH, RD, nutritionist, SAS, Cary, N.C. American Journal of Health Behavior, July/August 2003; vol 27: pp 456-462. Timothy J. Bungum, PhD, associate professor of health promotion, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Sandi Alexander Tuttle, manager, Xerox Recreation Association, Xerox Corporation, Rochester, N.Y. Michael Turner, director of human resources, The Carter Center, Atlanta. Kristl Buluran, manager, Health Matters, University of California, Berkeley.

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Last Editorial Review: 4/8/2005 3:52:00 PM