Working Hands

Employers Connecting the Dots to Obesity Care

We’ve just spent two days with nearly 200 human resource pros in the Texas Business Group on Health. They gathered for regional forums on health benefits in San Antonio and Houston. One thing comes through loud and clear. Employers are moving on beyond superficial wellness programs. Those programs alone don’t have much of an impact on obesity. The people who shape health benefit plans are discovering it takes more. Telling employees to eat less and move more is not enough.

They have a strong motivation. That’s because obesity can have a big effect on competitiveness. The connection is workforce productivity.

Obesity Care and Diabetes Prevention

Experts from diverse employers described how they are addressing obesity and working to prevent diabetes in their workforces. One was BP, a huge global energy company. Another was a regional grocery chain – H-E-B. And then finally, we heard about strategies for employees of the City of Garland, Texas.

Obesity Care WorksIn each case, these very different employers are providing employees with access to to the full range of obesity care. This includes behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, and bariatric surgery.

The bottom line is simple. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to obesity. For some, behavioral strategies can make a big difference. The Diabetes Prevention Program is a well-proven model for that.

But others are dealing with a physiological problem that requires more. Anti-obesity meds can make a big difference for some. For example, one study showed a reduction in progression to diabetes of 79 percent.

Still others need surgery to overcome obesity and put diabetes into remission. That can have a big impact on health costs. Abigail Ammerman presented data from H-E-B showing that health costs for their associates with diabetes are three times higher than the rest.

Engagement and Productivity

Health costs are one thing, and they’re certainly important. But health costs are only one part of the cost of obesity to an organization. Even bigger is the impact on engagement and productivity.

Loeppke et al showed that productivity costs of obesity are much higher than the medical costs to an organization. If it’s neglected, obesity can cut into productivity and competitiveness. So addressing it effectively is essential.

Effective strategies do two things. They offer flexibility to meet real employee needs rather than impose one-size-fits-all plan. Different histories present different challenges and opportunities. Wellness-or-else plans just don’t work well because of this. Employees won’t engage with programs that don’t meet their needs.

Thus, they also integrate strategies for well-being with health benefits that can help employees overcome obesity. That means access to the full range of effective obesity care. It’s coming slowly. But the progress is noticeable.

More and more employers are connecting the dots to the importance of obesity care.

Click here for presentation slides from Ted Kyle to the TBGH forums. For more on the impact of obesity in the workplace, click here and here.

Working Hands, photograph © wolfgangfoto / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


August 16, 2019