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How Entrepreneurs Can Reverse Obesity’s Impact on Company’s Bottom Line


Obese Woman_ID-10011808_FreeDigitalPhotos_300I was doing some research on weight loss recently for a fitness magazine piece, when I realized that almost every research study I looked at had some connection between obesity and business. Apparently, having overweight employees is unhealthy for a business—in more ways than one.

With a rapidly expanding population (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full 65% of Americans are either overweight or obese), weight has become more than a personal issue. Where concerns about an employee’s weight and overall fitness were once limited to airline stewardesses, athletes and movie stars, businesses both big and small are feeling the pain from unhealthy employees.

This impact can be felt in more ways than one. I assumed that the cost of health care would be significantly higher for companies with a lot of heavy employees—and I was right. According to data from Policy Analysis Inc, a company that specializes in burden-of-illness studies, paid sick leave for obesity related conditions alone cost an estimated 2.4 billion in extra expenses for businesses in a single year—1994.  By 2018, obesity related health expenses including health care, missed days and disability insurance expenditures are expected to reach a staggering 344 billion per year.

What I didn’t realize was the other ways a business can be impacted by overweight or obese employees. Everything from buying a second airplane seat for each supersized employee to stocking the company coffee and donut cart adds significant expense to the bottom line.  Not surprisingly, employees who are obese can negatively impact a business by chronic absenteeism, usually related to health conditions triggered by an unhealthy lifestyle and obesity.

So, what can a business owner do? If you know you have a problem—and let’s face it, you are likely picturing one or two plus sized employees right now—what can you do? While you obviously can’t dictate the weight that your employees should be for a variety of reasons both legal and moral, you can offer better choices in the workplace, and support healthy habits. Here are some great ways to help your employees live healthier, longer, happier lives, and boost your bottom line at the same time.

Offer Healthier Food Choices in House

Google knows better than any other employer how diet may affect workforce performance, which is why it has invested in an amazing food program for its staff, designed to improve employees’ health, productivity, and lifespan. If you pay a visit during lunchtime near San Jose, at the search engine giant’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, you will see employees dining on dishes of fresh sushi, Japanese style udon noodle salad, and roasted black bass with parsley pesto. On Thursdays, if you happen to come by, you will notice a Farmers Market that aims to  provide seasonal  fruits and vegetables exclusively to the 10,500+ “Googlers”. Being aware of how beneficial for a company is to invest in employee health and wellbeing, Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer has created a “Google” cafeteria experience in the Yahoo workplace, too.

Clear out the Vending Area

You won’t make many strides in reducing your businesses weight overload by offering salty, sugary, preservative packed snacks in your coffee or vending area. It will help if you stock these areas yourself or use a meal delivery service, replace the chips, pastries and candy with better choices like whole grain crackers, fresh fruit and yogurts. If you make healthy food more available, your employees are more likely to eat it—or at the very least they’ll have to go to more trouble to grab junk food during that 3pm energy slump.

Healthy Catering

If you host meetings, make sure that the food offered at meeting times is healthy. Your meal delivery service, if you use one, will be delighted to pull together box lunches or breakfast buffets that are both tasty and healthy. Switch to low fat milk on the coffee bar, and offer mini bagels and fruit instead of donuts for your Monday morning meeting. Replace ice-cream and pizza with Greek yogurt, humus and carrot sticks on Friday’s Happy Hour. Modeling healthy eating behavior may go a long way towards supporting your workers as they get healthy.

Reward Healthy Choices

In addition to offering healthy food choices, you can encourage your employees to get fit by rewarding healthy behavior. Consider offering health insurance incentives for employees who fall within healthier guidelines (if my employer offered this, I’d probably hit the treadmill a little more often!). Offer incentives for wellness programs. Reward employees that participate in a health activity or enroll in a gym, fitness class, or wellness program. Reward those who reach their health goals. This will reduce health care costs and will increase ROI.  Make sure your incentives are geared towards rewarding employees who are doing well as opposed to punishing those who are not. Herd mentality should kick in and everyone will get a little more fit as they respond to the rewards.

Discounts at Local Businesses

Pair with local businesses to offer healthy options for your employees. Most gyms are happy to give a corporate discount, and you can pass the savings on to your team.  Vegetarian or healthy restaurants nearby might consider offering a discount, if you promote them in your office. Neither of these options cost you a dime, but they benefit your employees—and your bottom line in the long run.

Rely on Teamwork

Pull together a company volleyball team, 5K club or other fun, fitness related activity. If you have the room, consider adding an onsite workout facility—you don’t have to invest a lot, and employees can get a workout in before they head home for the day. The United Way in Dallas offers Zumba classes in house, while employees of computer giant Microsoft have shed 61,000 pounds due to health initiates launched in the last decade. That’s some great employee teamwork, there!

By following the lead of big companies like, Google, Microsoft and the United Way you can reduce your business’s bottom line. Having healthy employees is great for everyone—your workers will be happier and less prone to illness and depression, and you’ll reap the benefits of having a happy, healthy workforce. Healthier, fit employees are a win-win situation for both parties. (photo source)

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Julie Dawn Harris

    I never see so much significance about this topic not until I read your article Matt. :) This a great strategy for companies. Well, I can’t say anything more because yes I agree with all of this.

    • Matthew

      Dear Julie,

      thank you so much for your nice comment. Indeed, it didn’t look important to me either, until I started researching the topic. It’s ridiculous how our food choices and lack of activity have affected our businesses and our performance at work.

      • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Julie Dawn Harris

        Well, I guess it’s right to say healthy lifestyle really does matter. :)

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