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Obesity prevalence and costs on the rise

The prevalence of overweight and obese adults in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and if the trend continues, most adults in the U.S. will be overweight or obese by 2030, with related health care spending projected to be as much as $956.9 billion. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are sounding the warning bell that health care costs attributable to obesity are expected to more than double every decade.

Dr. Mark Nelson spends a lot of time thinking about obesity and the impact that it has on health. As a cardiologist, he sees the deleterious results of obesity every day in his practice: heart disease and strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoarthritis, breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, and more. He also notes that obesity can be extremely disruptive to a person's normal life activities, including their ability to be productively and gainfully employed. He points to an increase in work absenteeism and cites the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy's recent report indicating that obesity increases the risk for on-the-job injuries.

Nelson believes that employers can and should play a critical role in tackling obesity and encourages corporate wellness programs to take a proactive approach to solving this problem. By focusing on obesity reduction, organizations can build a healthier, more productive work force while reducing some of the human and economic costs associated with obesity. Employers are in a unique position of influence with employees, and because employees spend so much time at work, it is the logical place to help instill and reinforce healthy habits that will support weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Nelson states that it is not only important for individual to lose weight, but that they must learn healthy eating habits that will allow them to sustain the weight loss. He believes that many weight problems are the result of people not having learned the basic habits of health in the first place, including the importance of balanced nutrition, eating frequent small healthy meals, and exercising regularly. He views health habits as the cornerstone for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. One approach that he favors is the Take Shape for Life program, which assigns health coaches to guide participants through both rapid safe weight loss and teaching Habits of Health so people can learn how to maintain a healthy body weight. Nelson emphasizes that being at a healthy body weight is the beginning, not the end, of the road to health.

Nelson suggests that employers can help in the battle against obesity by:

  • Providing information about the many health risks associated with obesity and dramatic risk reduction when overweight or obese individuals attain a healthy body weight
  • Educating employees about the benefits of healthy habits, such as good nutrition, frequent small healthy meals and frequent exercise
  • Ensuring that cafeterias and vending machines offer healthy food and beverage alternatives
  • Sponsoring or subsidizing health and wellness programs. Nelson believes the Take Shape for Life program deserves serious consideration because it costs employers nothing while helping employees (for whom the program is cost neutral) lose weight and improve their health
  • Encouraging or sponsoring periodic health risk assessments
  • Partnering with and tapping into health care providers who are experienced in Health and Wellness work
Nelson believes that by addressing obesity in a meaningful way, corporate wellness programs have a real opportunity to help their employees lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives while also accruing benefits to their organization's bottom line.

Dr. Mark Nelson MD, MPH, FACC specializes in general cardiovascular disease and has a particular interest in disease prevention and creating health for his patients. To contact Dr. Nelson or to learn more about the Take Shape for Life, you can view an archived webinar or contact mnelsonmd@nycap.rr.com

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