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Gaining Weight on the Job?

Companies are weighing in to help busy professionals fight the battle of the bulge.

The At-Work Exercise Fix continued...

Stress at the office often surfaces in the form of long work hours, skipped lunches, and tight deadlines leaving little personal time for you, the employee. Experts say stress is a major contributor to weight gain in the work force. It commonly causes many people to eat more and exercise less.

"Stress can lead to emotional eating, overconsumption of comfort foods, and less healthy quick choices. We educate employees about the importance of taking care of their bodies during stressful times, reminding them to continue exercising (or start exercising) and pay special attention to the food choices they make during these times," Cathy Greer, MPH, RD, a nutritionist at SAS, tells WebMD.

"I was put on a project that called for a lot of late hours. My routine got thrown off and I stopped working out," says Craig Robinson, a senior commercial real estate consultant in Atlanta. "I thought it would be a waste of money to continue paying for a gym when I didn't know when I would be in town." After putting on 10 unwanted pounds, Robinson decided it was time to get back in the gym and adopted the philosophy that doing something is better than nothing.

Bigger Employees, Bigger Costs

Some companies with wellness programs provide services such as on-site health, nutrition, and fitness consultations -- all at no cost to employees. But judging by recent studies, providing such services can pay off in the long run by lowering health-care costs for the company.

A study appearing in the July/August American Journal of Health Behavior shows that overweight employees cost companies more in terms of days missed at work and medical costs. The findings show that body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in proportion to height -- predicted higher health-care costs and greater absenteeism among workers. The average medical costs for city employees got larger as the employees got bigger. In this analysis done on almost 500 municipal workers in the city of Dallas:

  • Normal-weight employees (BMI <25) cost $114 per year.
  • Overweight employees (BMI 25-30) cost $513 per year.
  • Obese employees (BMI >30) cost $620 per year.

Overweight Employees Cost Billions

That can add up to a huge tab for a company. Medical expenditures on American employees and dependents exceed $900 billion each year, according to the study.

"Age, gender, race, educational attainment, and smoking all failed to predict obesity-related health-care costs," says researcher Tim Bungum, PhD. "The lone significant predictor of health-care costs was BMI."

"Obviously, an employee who is here and productive and healthy at work is going to benefit the company more than the employee who's absent or feeling marginally good when they're at work or having other physical problems," says Poll.

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