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Oct 2016

Workplace health and safety: Is weight ‘weighing’ you down?


fat man eating a burger in a chair

Weight gain is an issue faced by all aging individuals. Over time, the body’s metabolism slows down and calories seem to stick to hips, legs, and bellies no matter what. How has the workplace impacted the struggles many employees experience with weight gain? How does weight gain effect an employees work? What can employers do to shift the health and safety of their employees back in the right direction?

What causes weight gain?

Again, it is natural for humans to gain some weight as they age. Adults experience weight gain as the years pass due to a variety of reasons. First, aging muscles do not repair as quickly. Levels of testosterone and estrogen in the body decrease with age, and this leads to some muscle loss which can contribute to weight gain. Muscles burn calories more quickly than fat. When the body loses muscle then calories are not burned as quickly, and fat levels increase.

However, there are many unnatural causes that contribute to weight gain throughout an individual’s adult life. Over time, the workforce in America has shifted to an overwhelmingly sedentary routine. The lack of movement in an individual worker’s daily activities makes a serious contribution to the problem of weight gain. The ‘sitting epidemic’ in the United States is one of the major contributors to weight gain.

High levels of stress in the workplace and in daily lives of employees can also contribute to weight gain. As deadlines, long work-days, and workplace drama pile up, stress does too. Increased stress levels are linked to an increase in appetite and craving for sugary/fatty foods.

Overall, a general lack of nutrition (combined with sedentary living and high stress) also plays a role in weight gain. Eating healthy is easier said than done- especially in the workplace. Offices have vending machines, fast food is an easy alternative for lunch, and birthdays/special events lead to staff donut days and free cake. General nutrition is arguable more important than exercise or de-stressing.

How weight affects health and safety

The health effects of weight gain are well-documented. Individuals who are overweight or obese have an elevated risk of heart disease, developing type 2 diabetes, and experiencing a stroke. Not only so, but those who are overweight or obese sometimes struggle with psychological problems such as depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

The physical side effects of weight gain are well known. What about the effects of weight gain on the workplace as a whole? An article by Jonathan Borak published in the Oxford Journal says that obesity-related healthcare costs are greater than those stemming from drinking, smoking, and poverty. The overall cost of obesity-related circumstances: over 85 billion dollars a year.

Being overweight or obese also positively correlates with absenteeism. That is, as weight goes up so do days of missed work. Overall, this leads a decrease in productivity by employees who are overweight or obese. Ultimately, weight gain in the workplace inflates healthcare costs as well as decreasing productivity. Resulting in a double-edged sword that impacts the company’s finances in expenditure as well as in production.

What can employers do?

Weight gain, as discussed earlier, is a natural part of aging. However, employers can take steps to help prevent excessive weight gain in the workforce. First and foremost, proper awareness and knowledge is crucial. Employers can bring attention to the issue of weight gain through seminars, trainings, and workplace discussions. When employees are aware of the issue, then they are more likely to dedicate themselves to fixing it.

After bringing attention to the issue it is time to formulate a solution. Workplace wellness programs are one option employers can use to promote health in the workplace. In addition to workplace wellness, employers need make small changes around the workplace that promote a healthy future. These changes can include things such as healthier snack options, monitoring stress levels, encouraging exercise, and ensuring employees are not overworked.

As in all things, real change comes from within. Employers will not be able to change their employees no matter what programs are put in place. Ultimately, employees need to be on board with bettering their own health and taking steps toward a healthier future. So, get your employees involved. Present the issue, and be prepared to help them get the weight off their shoulders.

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