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Initiatives to Combat Obesity in the Workplace

As an employer, is it really your job to help combat obesity? Only if you care about productivity, employee wellness, healthcare costs...

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There’s an overweight epidemic putting a strain on Americans, as adult obesity rates inch closer to 50% of the population. Knowing these health concerns impact healthcare costs, employee productivity, and overall well-being, what can employers do to tailor support and resources to help employees achieve and maintain a healthy weight?

Although there’s no singular or simple solution, there are several workplace adaptations, activities, and programs you can implement to encourage employees as they work to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Combat Obesity with Nutrition

Obesity can result from a combination of causes, such as elevated stress, poor dietary patterns, medications, and/or genetics. The American diet has gotten bigger in general and contains more unhealthy food consumption than previous generations.

As a company, consider the following measures you can do to support employees’ healthy eating habits:

  • Stock vending machines with healthy options. Replace sugary beverages with water, fruit juice and vegetable juice. Replace unhealthy snacks with pretzels, fresh fruit, low-fat popcorn, and other nutritious and/or low-sodium options.
  • Provide healthy meals. Whether you have an on-site cafeteria or a catered event, be sure to include fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, and whole grains.
  • Price non-nutritious options at a higher cost. Yes, the fats and sugar are cheaper, but making them more expensive may help encourage healthier choices.
  • Post nutritional information. Label foods in the vending machines and cafeterias to show serving size and nutritional content.
  • Provide educational materials and healthy eating reminders. Educational information can be sent to employees via email, shared on your company’s intranet, and posted on social media.
  • Make drinking water easily accessible near vending machines. This will enable the healthier option of choosing water over a sugary beverage more convenient.
  • Provide healthy recipes and cooking classes. Once a month, you could host a potluck where everyone wanting to participate brings a homemade something to share, along with its recipe. You could also try contacting a vendor to see if they’d be willing to do evening cooking classes for your employees at a discounted rate.
  • Offer employees the opportunity to purchase locally grown fruit and vegetables. Depending on the season, you could find a workplace farmers market or community supported agriculture drop-off point and send somebody with employee orders to make their purchases.

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Combat Obesity with Physical Activity

A sedentary lifestyle can often be occupation-related, with a growing number of Americans sitting throughout the workday instead of moving around. As a result, your workers get significantly less physical activity throughout day, which is necessary to burn calories.

You can implement a variety of initiatives to encourage employees to exercise during the workday and at home, such as the following:

  • Install bike racks. Placing these in convenient, accessible locations will encourage bicycling to work. You could also sponsor a “bike to work” day and *reward employees who participate.
  • Post “Take the Stairs” signs near elevators. Encourage employees to take the stairs by making light-hearted posters (please, no elevator-ride shaming signs) that are visible when they need to go to another floor.
  • Create a recreational company sports team or a walking club. You’ll get more participants when you make exercising a fun, social event. You could also organize a company-sponsored team to do a local run or walk event.
  • Provide fitness options. If you have the budget, consider offering standing desks for employees. You could also post walking routes near the building for employees to use. If on-site fitness is not an option, offer discounted memberships to local fitness centers instead.
  • Run programs or competitions to encourage activity. Consider having a pedometer walking challenge, a 10,000 steps/day challenge, a 30 minutes/day exercise challenge, and so on. Provide *incentives for participation in physical activity and weight management or maintenance activities.
  • Choose walking meetings. Instead of sitting down for meetings, host walk-and-talk meetings whenever possible.

*Keep in mind that, per the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate in a wellness program and earn whatever incentives offered.

Final Thoughts

Adopting better eating and exercise habits require individuals to commit to a lifestyle change. Employers can support this by implementing exercise and nutrition initiatives, then offering flexible work hours and breaks to encourage activity throughout the day. Your employees’ productivity, energy, morale, work attendance, healthcare costs, and your bottom line will all thank you.

For more tips, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus.hr client? Book a consultation and our team will contact you shortly!

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