Benefits and Compensation

Gallup Data on Obese Workers: Time to Dust Off ‘Lighter’ Workplace Tips

Most U.S. workers are either obese or suffering from at least one chronic condition, which costs employers $153 billion in lost productivity, says a new Gallup-Healthways survey. That’s the bad news. The good news is employers can take steps to lighten their workforce, and I’ll provide a refresher on some of those steps later below.

First, more on this Gallup data. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index collected data between Jan. 2 and Oct. 2, 2011 from almost 110,000 full-time employees, finding that about 86 percent are above normal weight or have at least one chronic condition.

The weight data were based on calculating respondents’ body mass index (BMI) based on their height and weight. BMI values of 30 or higher are classified as “obese,” 25.0 to 29.9 are “overweight” and 18.5 to 24.9 are “normal weight.” Chronic conditions were defined as being overweight or obese; having ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or leg in the last 12 months.

The data showed that only about 14 percent of workers were of normal weight and did not suffer from chronic health conditions. They also had what the index called about only four “unhealthy” days per year.

Compare that to overweight workers with one or more chronic conditions — their unhealthy days ranged from approximately 12 to 42 days per year. And most key for employers, Gallup found that one unhealthy day per month for full-time workers is equivalent to about 0.31 actual missed days of work. Without getting deeper into the stats, here is the bottom line: Overweight workers with other chronic health conditions “miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers — resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually,” according to Gallup. The polling firm called this a “significant drain on productivity for U.S. businesses.”

But Gallup added that by addressing health issues currently plaguing the workplace, “employees and employers have the opportunity to potentially increase productivity.”

This leads me to a refresher on blog posts I did on “Lighten Up: Daily Strategies for a Lighter, Healthier Workplace,” a session led by corporate health strategist Adam Bordes at the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Bordes noted that what will work generally for employers looking to incentivize employees to lose weight in a structured program is focusing on the DEPLOY system:

  1. D: Deliver easily consumerable and learnable content.
  2. E: Encourage and entice employees to participate in a way that makes sense for them.
  3. P: Promote, which involves choosing your communication method: e-mail or hard copy, for example.
  4. L: Leverage, which involves looking to resources like local businesses for assistance.
  5. O:  Optimize, which involves regularly asking employees what they think of your wellness efforts, to get them better engaged.
  6. Y: Yearly Events, which involves events like health fairs.

Bordes also gave four tips to promote healthy living among employees to help them lose weight, which can be divided into four “Fs”: (1) Food — eat foods that are famous for being healthy; (2) Fitness, to include walking your weight-loss goal in miles every month; (3) Fat Loss, to include applying the ELMO principle — Eat Less More Often; and (4) Focus — Go viral about your health goals.

For the complete story on Bordes’ sessions, go here and here.