Obesity in the Workplace: Impact and Recommendations | EAPA-SA

Obesity in the global workforce has a significant economic impact

According to Investopedia, the dramatic rise in obesity and obesity-related problems among the world’s population has not only cost billions of people their health, but has also brought significant costs to the global economy.  The economic impact of obesity – roughly equal to that of smoking and armed war – amounts to $2 trillion annually, which equates to approximately 2.8% of the global GDP1. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity has tripled since 1975 and, surprisingly, 25 percent of children under five years old who are overweight live in sub-Saharan Africa.  At its current rate, obesity is estimated to increase to affect almost half of the world’s adult population by 2030.1

What is overweight and obesity?

Overweight and obesity are defined by the World Health Organisation as having an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.2

What qualifies someone as being overweight or obese? 

Body Mass Index (BMI), which takes into account a person’s height to weight ratio, is a common gauge of obesity.  WHO defines overweight and obesity for adults as follows:

  • overweight is a BMI equal to or greater than 25; and
  • obesity is a BMI equal to or greater than 30.

For perspective: 

  • A woman who is 172cm tall (an average height) and weighs 60 – 74kg falls into a healthy BMI range of between 18.5 – 24.9
  • A man who is 183cm tall (an average height) and weighs 63kg – 79kg falls into a healthy BMI range.

What kinds of health problems are linked to overweight and obesity?

Being overweight or obese is believed to increase the risk for many health problems, including 3

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease and strokes
  • certain types of cancer
  • sleep apnoea
  • osteoarthritis
  • fatty liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • pregnancy problems

Why should employers get involved in preventing obesity and encourage healthy living4

Firstly, employed adults spend around one-third of their time at work and the workplace is a prime environment for helping employees to address their issues of overweight and obesity.  Secondly, obesity is associated with a negative impact on productivity in the workplace in the following ways:

  • High rates of absenteeism among obese and morbidly obesity employees.
  • An increase in preventable chronic diseases associated with obesity, which affect increasing costs of treatment and medical insurance.
  • Lower energy and productivity in the workplace – an increase in “presenteeism”

Here are five ways in which employers can assist their workforce in overcoming or preventing obesity5+6

  1. Make implementing a healthy workforce your organisation’s priority
  • Create a wellness strategy that is written down and communicated with the entire organisation, with buy-in from management downwards
  • Tackle the pressing health issues that affect your employees by educating and empowering them through wellness programmes
  • Support positive change through the physical environment in which they work

2. Slowly phase out unhealthy foods in your workplace

  • Make smart changes to the types of foods you provide in your cafeteria or snack dispensing machines
  • Replace regular and diet fizzy drinks with healthier options like fruit juice and water
  • Ensure that a gradual transition, along with educating your employees, make changes feel less of a drastic, making it easier for people to adopt the healthier options on offer

3. Change the “cake culture” in your workplace

  • New research has found that office “cake culture” influences employee eating behaviour and could therefore undermine the effectiveness of workplace health programmes.5 Instead of rewarding employees with cake and pastries for a job well done, reward them with gift cards or movie vouchers
  • Encourage work groups to discuss how often your workers actually want office cake and pastries – and suggest set days for cake, keeping these for special occasions such as once a month for birthdays.

4. Allow regular “walking breaks” throughout the day

  • Standing up and walking around for even two minutes every hour can help to mitigate the life-shortening effects of sitting all day – according to a study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.6 Taking a break every 45 minutes, or so, and walking around the office is much healthier that sitting all day and then going to the gym at the end of the day.
  • Give your employees several 15-minute walking breaks throughout the day in addition to their lunch break. The human brain can only focus on a task for a maximum of 45-60 minutes, and this will not only benefit your workers in a physical sense, but also mentally in getting in getting back to work with a fresh mind.

5. Go high-tech with standing desks or balance ball chairs

  • Though not suitable for every work environment standing desks are becoming more prevalent – as are treadmill workstations, biking chairs, and balance-ball chairs. These are all great tools for bringing health and fitness into the work environment.

Source:  https://www.fastcompany.com/3045862/sitting-all-day-will-kill-you-but-a-2-minute-walk-could-change-that

Having the support of one’s employer in the workplace in providing an environment that is conducive to healthy living – including exercising more, eating properly and drinking more water – makes a huge difference in how employees perform at work.  Employees will appreciate receiving support through overweight prevention programmes and help in taking steps to deal with reducing their BMI – and it this will reflect in the health of the organisation.





5 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/workplace-cake-culture-fuelling-obesity-and-poor-dental-health-experts-warn-a7098891.html