Targeting Obesity

Obesity costs employers enormous amounts of money each year, but finding effective weight-loss programs for their employees is tricky.  Lawmakers are urging insurers to recognize obesity as an illness, providing coverage for such things as bariatric surgery and weight-loss counseling.  Indeed, obesity creates a greater risk for a host of serious illnesses, such as heart disease, gallstones, diabetes, cancer, infertility and sleep apnea.

Long term success often combines behavioral, pharmaceutical and/or surgical treatments.  Any one element just is not as effective.  Wellness programs that are fun and open to everyone can be beneficial as well, especially when there’s a teamwork atmosphere and no one feels singled out.  Preventing obesity is as important as reversing it, and it’s certainly much easier to prevent it.

A normal body mass index may not always be the goal.  Sometimes just losing 5-10 pounds can bring real health benefits.  A huge weight loss should not be the criteria of success.

Unfortunately, healthier foods tend to be more expensive than unhealthy, processed foods.  For this reason, cash incentives are often effective for participation in workplace wellness programs.  Information alone is not enough to significantly change behavior.

From Employee Benefit News, February 2009 issue, pp. 34-36.