the bad but known news? we’re fat and getting fatter.
the good but unknown news? some of our efforts are making a difference. increasing and expanding these efforts could have an astounding impact on life expectancy, well-being and bottom line costs.
that’s the word from “F as in fat: how obesity threatens america’s future,” a report from trust for america’s health and the robert wood johnson foundation.
we’ve a serious problem on our hands. we all know that. if we don’t reverse current obesity trends for kids theirs will be the first generation to live sicker and die earlier. that’s not good news for anyone. forget a skills shortage, we’ll be facing a talent shortage the likes of which we’ve never known. the impact on employers doesn’t hinge on this generation eventually showing up on the office doorstep, however. it’s present today, and there are many reasons why employers should be concerned about childhood obesity. of course adults, too, are dealing with the difficulties and disabilities associated with being overweight and obese—and so are their employers, with increased absences, stress, chronic conditions, and health care dollars as well as decreased productivity. (jump to page 32 of this report for the staggering data on the economic cost of obesity.)
it’s not all doom and gloom
this report spells out the ramifications of an obese society in great detail, but its emphasis is on the possibilities and our progress. we as a nation have a choice to make in schools and elsewhere.
the report shares the positive impact we’d make with a modest adjustment in obesity rates. the researchers project that reducing our collective BMI by five percent would yield substantial cost savings in every state in the U.S. (except florida), and we could avoid a raft of new cases of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer.
what will it take to make a difference?
the report identifies a few steps employers can take. i’ve expanded on them here:
- ensuring expectant mothers are eating well, getting the recommended maternity care and have access to tools to help prepare emotionally and otherwise for a new arrival
- giving new mothers adequate maternity leave and providing financial, cultural and environmental support for breast feeding when they return to work
- creating routine opportunities to get physical activity throughout the work day and the necessary policies and incentives to support ongoing, more extensive physical activity outside of work
- instituting a healthy foods policy that guides the selection, offering, and pricing of food in cafeterias, vending machines, on-site shops, and meetings
- moving to a tobacco-free environment that guides tobacco users to quit and ensures a safe working environment for non-tobacco users
- providing a living wage and high school and higher-education attainment since both are related to improved health and well-being
- getting educated about and supporting local and federal legislation and actions that benefit employee and family well-being, such as those to improve walkability, school lunches, access to health care, access to nutritious food, tobacco-free public zones, bike lanes, alternative ways to commute, etc.
(jump to page 78 of the report for a section devoted to small business and workplace wellness.)
to improve our grade we must apply ourselves
show me a parent and i’ll show you a person who’s said, at least once, that improving performance and reaping the related benefits is possible. it takes hard work and focus. in this report, the trust for america’s health and the robert wood johnson foundation are asking us to apply ourselves—and telling us the rewards are absolutely in sight and achievable.