There’s a good reason obesity gets a bad rap: Roughly $1 of every $5 in annual medical spending goes to obesity-related illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, heart disease, stroke and even some forms of cancer. That’s a staggering $190.2 billion each year.

Obesity also impacts employers with lower productivity, more absenteeism and frequent presenteeism, which occurs when employees are on-the-job but feel sick or exhausted.

Weight is complex issue with no easy answers. Genetics and behavior both play a role. And, as anyone who’s already given up on their 2017 weight-loss resolution knows, dropping pounds is harder than it sounds.

Because employees spend the majority of their waking hours in the workplace, smart employers support workers’ weight-reduction goals instead of carelessly undermining them.

Little changes in the workplace can make a real difference.

  1. Develop a sugar schedule. British dentist say a cake culture in the workplace is contributing to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Birthday celebrations, donuts and candy jars can sabotage the best of intentions. Limit sugary snacks by encouraging only one-day-a-week celebrations or celebrating with nuts and fruit. (If sugary treats are a must, follow Google’s example and stash them in opaque containers instead of displaying them temptingly next to the coffeemaker.)
  2. Shrink the plates. If your workplace has a cafeteria or canteen, start using slightly smaller plates – another Google tactic. We eat with our eyes first, and a filled plate helps diners feel satisfied with smaller portions.
  3. Spruce up stairwells. When company stairwells are clean, safe and attractive, you can encourage employees use the steps instead of the elevator. Boost your effort with a clever communication plan or competition to engage employees. Why? Swiss researchers linked using the stairs with a longer life: In their study, employees who used the steps for three months reduced their waist, lost weight and lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol.
  4. Revamp your vending machines. If your employees need to skip lunch or give into the afternoon munchies, be sure healthy options are available. Fitness Magazine suggests sunflower seeds, baked chips, peanuts and granola bars. They’re not all low-calorie choices, but offer more fiber, protein and healthy fats than candy bars, Doritos and pop tarts.
  5. Invest in workplace wellness. Nine out of 10 companies with 200 or more employees have wellness programs, but you don’t need to be large to be successful. It’s a worthwhile investment: Wellness programs are linked with reduced employee absenteeism, staff turnover and employee stress. And some studies show a 3:1 return on wellness programming investments.

The bottom line? Obesity can be a significant drain on your company, but you can help reverse the trend with effective programs that support a healthier lifestyle.

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