An obese employee incurs about $1500 more in medical costs annually than a normal weight employee, according to an article published last week in Health Affairs. This doesn’t even account for the losses in reduced productivity incurred by obese employees – often estimated to be over two times medical costs. Reducing the prevalence of obesity in an employee population is a key step toward lowering health care costs.
How should employers go about helping their employees lose weight? Some important things to keep in mind are:
1) Implementing policy changes across the organization to produce an environment conducive to eating well and exercising (e.g., accessible stairwells, healthy cafeteria options)
2) Offering employees an effective obesity management program – a comprehensive program that addresses the mental as well as physical aspects of losing weight is typically more effective than one addressing exercise or diet only
3) Offering incentives. There was an article in JAMA last year showing that incentives (either lottery or contract-based) increased engagement in a weight loss program and helped increase the amount of weight loss.