Employee Wellness? Start with Active Workplaces

Employers are talking a lot about employee wellness programs, with some stirring up controversy by weighing their employees and imposing penalties on employees with obesity. A pair of new studies adds to the understanding that prolonged sitting time at work is a significant risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and a host of health problems. This growing body of evidence suggests that employers would do well to focus on their own responsibility for a healthy workplace that doesn’t promote obesity and other chronic diseases.

Andrea Chomistek and colleagues have just published data online from the Women’s Health Initiative in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showing that prolonged sitting time is associated with increased cardiovascular risk, independent of leisure-time activity.

“We found that in almost every activity group [high, medium, low, and inactive], sitting more was more harmful,”  said Chomistek, a Research Fellow in the Nutrition Department of the Harvard School of Public Health

In another new study, Sharon Parry and Leon Straker found in Australian office workers that 82% of work hours were sedentary, significantly more than non-work hours (69%, p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that “Although office work has traditionally been considered a ‘low risk’ occupation in terms of chronic health outcomes, it may in fact increase the risk of mortality and cardiometabolic disorders due to overall accumulated sedentary time and especially sustained sedentary time at work.”

So employers that admonish employees to do something about their weight should do their part to create a healthy workplace, where employees spend most of their waking hours. Ample resources, guidance, and evidence suggests that this is possible.

Employers that ignore this and focus instead on wellness programs to penalize people with obesity will create a considerable risk to their reputation.

Click here to read the Chomistek study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, click here to read the study by Parry and Straker in BMC Public Health, click here to read more at DiabetesCare.net about the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases associated with sitting time, and click here to read about ways to promote physical activity at work from the American Council on Exercise.

Sitting Airedale image © Angela Montillon / Wikimedia

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