A report released Monday by the Northeast Business Group on Health says that the prevalence and cost of obesity make it one of the top health challenges for employers, and then they need a plan for dealing with its impact. “Weight Control and the Workplace” says employees should be included in the designing and implementing of obesity-fighting programs, which work better when customized to a population.

The majority of employers questioned by the NEBGH cite “employees’ poor health habits” as one of their top three obstacles to maintaining affordable health coverage. Efforts to improve population health include comprehensive wellness programs, on-site exercise offerings and healthier cafeteria options, but many particularly struggle when it comes to weight management.

“Overweight employees cost employers more than $73 billion each year and put themselves at risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses,” says Laurel Pickering, president and CEO of the NEBGH coalition. “Employers, health plans and health care providers need to come up with coordinated, compelling approaches that engage employees in managing their weight in order to stem skyrocketing healthcare costs and improve public health.”

The report highlights what participants consider the key elements of a successful weight control program:

  •  Support from top executives
  •  Incentives and discounts to up participation
  •  ROI data to build a compelling business case in the program
  •  Established success matrixes that include health outcomes

“One of the challenges employers face in engaging people in weight control efforts is the stigma attached to being overweight or obese,” says Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH. “Official recognition of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association could increase physician engagement in identifying overweight and obese individuals for intervention, as well as help reduce the stigma and pave the way for increased participation in employer-sponsored efforts.”

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