Obesity a Problem for the Healthcare Industry

April 10, 2014

It may seem like office workers stuck in a cubicle all day are at a greater risk of health problems, including obesity. However, based on a recent study, that isn't exactly the case.

Instead, it appears that healthcare workers are the ones who are at the top of the list when it comes to higher obesity rates, a finding that wasn't necessarily expected. This was one of the results from a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The research was led by Sara Luckhaupt, M.D., of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, along with Martha Cohen, Ph.D., Jia Li, M.S., and Geoffrey Calvert, M.D.

The study demonstrated that every industry – even one associated with healthcare – can be susceptible to problems that could lead to higher workers compensation insurance costs and other expenses. With that in mind, all companies should do everything possible to ensure a safe, productive work environment. One of those measures could be a wellness program, and these initiatives can be beneficial even for the doctors and nurses who spend their days helping others get healthier.

Long hours, hostile environment causes health problems
Even though the health care industry itself is so focused on positive behaviors, exercise and nutrition, these factors alone aren't enough to prevent employees from running into their own problems. In fact, it appears that other causes are behind higher obesity rates in the workplace.

According to the study, the two main problems encountered by businesses are long hours and hostile work environments. The more employees are stuck on the job, the less time they have to exercise and participate in healthy living. Once the study information was adjusted for race, gender and dangerous health behaviors, two industries emerged as having higher-than-average obesity rates – health care and public administration. The researchers then set out to answer the question of why. In many cases, it appears to be related to the sedentariness of the job. In healthcare, many employees are receptionists and billing staff, so they spend their days sitting at their desks performing tasks. 

In addition to healthcare, other industries with high obesity rates included manufacturing, construction and mining. Employers who understand the dangers faced by their staff members can create an effective risk management plan and find new ways to reduce workers compensation insurance costs.

Wellness programs can improve workplace health
In order to combat workplace obesity and other dangerous health behaviors, companies should consider instituting wellness programs. These measures can help employees identify positive steps in their lives, and provide incentives for meeting goals and removing risk factors. 

However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to a wellness program, according to AARP. It is up to the business itself to identify the direction, and create an ideal plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the workforce. In order to do that, it might help to begin by answering some questions. For starters, the company has to figure out what its goals are. Who is the audience? The office may be comprised of older adults with different physical capabilities than younger ones, so this could dictate the health options offered. On a similar note, an older workforce will likely be motivated by different incentives, so this can also factor into the structure of the wellness program. 

Overall, a companies should take the time to create an effective wellness program. Obesity and other health problems are becoming common in more industries, and ignoring these issues could lead to higher workers compensation insurance costs. Finding a way to limit these risks could provide substantial cost savings for the business.