As the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a consortium of companies that includes consumer staples such as Mars, Inc., Nestle USA, Bumble Bee Foods, General Mills, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company, surpassed its goal of cutting calories from its food and beverage products, employers can also play a vital role in helping to solve nation’s obesity epidemic.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states that HWCF surpassed its 2015 pledge by nearly 400% – resulting in a reduction of 78 calories per person in the U.S. per day. HWCF member companies have removed 6.4 trillion calories from their products, exceeding their 2010 pledge to First Lady Michelle Obama remove 1.5 trillion calories by 2015.

Lisa Gable, president of the HWCF, explains that the country’s largest food and beverage manufacturers and retailers were able to “do their part in addressing the obesity challenge” by focusing and collaborating resources for major educational campaigns.

In the workplace, similar pledges can assist in getting employees to improve overall health and physical fitness. LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, says that most of its nearly 400 large employer members make this culture connection on a daily basis.

See also: Big business develops roadmap for a healthier, more productive workforce

“Employers do increasingly recognize the value of health culture at work, and it’s not just health care companies,” explains Heinen. “It’s more of no-brainer for companies that are in the health care or fitness space like a Nike, but it’s expanding more broadly to other kinds of companies such as manufacturing companies. There is a major emphasis where they’ve always been strong on safety – it’s now safety and wellness, and we want to integrate total worker health.”

For instance, the people-centric leadership focus at Barry-Wehmiller, a global supplier of engineering consulting and manufacturing technology with about 8,000 employees worldwide, has helped it to grow to a $1.7 billion organization. Building a culture of health has become a piece of the fabric at the company, says Lexie Dendrinelis, well-being leader at Barry-Wehmiller. 

“The company cares about us as an associate, but furthermore, I care about the people that I work and in turn, they care about the people that they work with, and so that helps to put us in a mindset of a culture of health,” says Dendrinelis. “Because we have a strong leadership culture, that allows us to develop a strong culture of health.” 

Dendrinelis says the company began its wellness journey in 2006, when it realized that health care cost rises were spiraling out of control. At the time, traditional workplace health programs, such as weight management programs, health reimbursement accounts and biometric screenings were in place, but the company concluded that culture also needed to play a role.

Now with two high-deductible health plans and one preferred provider organization plan, she says it’s serving up a “better you” incentive to associates that take care of their personal health.

The Vitality Institute, the research arm of wellness vendor Vitality Group, projected in June that $303 billion can be saved through a healthier workforce should chronic disease prevention efforts become a norm. RWJF research estimates that the U.S. is spending about $2.7 trillion annually on health care, but these dollars are usually focused on treating disease and injury after they happen.

See also: Preventive measures can help U.S. workforce, save billions

Derek Yach, executive director of the Vitality Institute, says this recent obesity pledge, and workplace health culture in general, is expected to expand. “I was left in no doubt that the CEOs of leading companies in the U.S. are building healthy food and activity programs into their overall health promotion efforts,” he says.

Yach highlights that HWCF’s “actions compliment what is needed in the workplace – making it easier for employees to find, afford and eat healthier foods.”

But as the Affordable Care Act offers a carrot – rather than a stick – to employers that provide weight management and healthy programs, wellness options are starting to pop up more and more. Last year, a RAND Health study found that half of U.S. employers offer wellness programs. Meanwhile, NBGH’s Heinen explains that larger Fortune 500 companies may have “beat the ACA to the punch on wellness,” with some programs being traceable to the 1980s.

“The reason that the ACA encouraged and supported wellness was in large part, because they saw it working in the large employer setting and they wanted it to permeate to the smaller and mid-sized market and other sectors,” Heinen explains. “I think the ACA was more of a response to large employer corporate initiatives.”

Now, every company is starting to realize it’s not just about body mass index, but a variety of things that envelop overall health and well-being of a workforce, Heinen says.

“I think so many employers that began to realize that health is a tremendous asset,” she says. “In fact, the concept of health and wellness is extended to physical, social, emotional and even financial because all of those are detractors from focus and concentration at work.”

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