Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

COVID-19: Comorbidities a Serious Concern for Employers

The world gets closer to a COVID-19 vaccine every day. However, research suggests that the coronavirus vaccine, like many others, could be less effective for obese adults. This is bad news for the 42.4% of Americans who fit that category.

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So far, we know that people with underlying health conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity—have the highest risk of contracting COVID-19. If the new research proves true, obese patients’ comorbidity means they will still face a heightened chance of infection and mortality even after a vaccine is developed.

As a Human Resources leader, you’re likely looking for ways to support employees and keep them safe through this unprecedented crisis. By promoting the importance of healthy eating, you can help employees decrease their risk of infection and improve the health and well-being of your workforce as a whole.

Addressing the Coronavirus and Nutrition

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the United States was already facing another crisis: the growing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Unhealthy lifestyle choices, poor nutrition, and a lack of exercise contribute to weight gain, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and further complications (such as hypertension and a weakened immune system) if left untreated.

Unfortunately, all of these risks also hurt your employees’ ability to fight, avoid, and overcome illness related to COVID-19. Even with a vaccine, the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and increased risk of infection means that many people will still not be adequately protected. A vaccine works by promoting the body’s production of antibodies to neutralize the virus, and this process is inhibited when the body’s immune system is taxed by poor nutrition.

If you want to help your employees control their risks, consider starting with the importance of healthy eating. Maintaining a healthy weight is possible through good nutrition and proper exercise, but too many people lack access to the healthcare benefits and nutrition counseling needed to reach their individual goals. Here’s how you can better support your employees during this difficult time:

1. Review your healthcare benefits. Most insurance plans already include nutrition counseling, which can directly help people who fall into COVID-19 high-risk groups. Take time to review these benefits with employees, and encourage them to take advantage of all their options. The massive work space displacement resulting from COVID-19 has forced more people into sedentary workflows, but nutrition counselingcan help counteract the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

When possible, incentivize employees to take advantage of their healthcare benefits. According to a recent survey, 69% of employees say that a workplace focused on improving their health and well-being would make them want to stay at their jobs. By advertising nutrition-focused healthcare benefits, you’ll not only provide timely support but also increase your long-term employee retention.

2. Make nutrition counseling accessible. Because of the pandemic, 66% of employees in the United States are working remotely at least part time. Working from home isn’t easy for employees who are used to more traditional office environments, and many are balancing new routines with family needs like child care and virtual learning. This is new for companies, too, so many HR leaders aren’t sure how to support remote employees.

To help accommodate employees’ new situations, consider bringing online nutrition counseling to them. Telehealth appointments improve accessibility by eliminating commute times and providing flexible scheduling.

Plus, the remote aspect of telehealth further decreases the chance that high-risk employees will contract COVID-19 from healthcare facilities. You can also make it easy for employees to choose the right virtual registered dietitian by creating a list of in-network experts.

3. Highlight individualized care. Registered dietitians act as coaches. They encourage employees to adopt better habits that lead to more energy, better productivity, and increased job satisfaction. Most people are struggling to adapt to their new routines, so registered dietitians can help provide external support as employees work toward their new goals. This can go a long way in helping employees and their families cope.

For many people, the biggest roadblock to good nutrition is knowledge. They’re not sure what diet to follow, which foods will impede their progress, or where to start. Through nutrition counseling, registered dietitians provide specific meal plans and educational resources designed to help people meet their healthcare needs.

The hope of a vaccine offers companies and employees much-needed relief from the strenuous effects of the coronavirus. However, a vaccine may be less effective for people struggling with obesity and poor nutrition. Employees need more than hope—they need help, and these three strategies can help you support them.

Mary Jo Gorman, MD, is the CEO of Healthy Bytes, a company that improves lives through nutritional counseling by connecting expert dietitians to employers, providers, and clients. She’s an innovative, experienced healthcare services executive with a strong track record of success in growing companies. Her extensive knowledge of healthcare provider networks, practices, and the user and buyer enables strategies that develop new markets and models.

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