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Obesity hurts the economy

by Catarina Rivera

Obesity is not just a health issue; it’s an economic issue as well. Obesity costs private US companies an estimated $45 billion annually for medical expenses and work loss. A study found that 67.8 percent of the cost was due to presenteeism, or reduced productivity due to illness. This is consistent with a 2010 study from the Netherlands where obese workers reported taking more sick days and feeling less productive than peers. Obesity is hurting our economy, and businesses need to take an active role in fighting this epidemic. As businesses take on this problem, they might develop innovative new strategies for reducing obesity and increase their bottom line along the way.

The precedent for requiring business involvement in the obesity crisis has already been set in Japan. In 2008, Japan issued governmental guidelines for waist measurements for men and women. Companies and local governments that fail to meet benchmarks incur fines. Similarly, Alabama passed a law in 2008 that introduced a fine for obese state employees who fail to improve their health within a year of an initial screening.

Not everyone thinks companies benefit from fighting obesity. According to Forbes, Eric Finkelstein, a health economist, believes that businesses do not have a vested interest in dealing with obesity because employees are largely transient, only staying at a job for an average of 4.5 years. Therefore, they won’t see the benefits of helping those employees. Also, obesity-related health problems may take a while to emerge. This opinion does not take into account the loss in productive work time and revenue that companies experience. Improving health and wellness in employees has the potential to yield benefits even within a 4.5 year window.

One issue to note is the debate over whether paying for weight-loss surgery actually benefits companies. Obese employees who qualify for this surgery are high-cost employees with high rates of absenteeism. Employers risk their leaving the job before the costs are recouped. Bariatric surgery is a weak strategy for companies addressing obesity because it is high-cost and low-impact, concentrating a lot of resources on individuals. It would be more effective for companies to implement comprehensive strategies affecting all employees, such as providing health coaches or creating healthy lunch options. Many companies already have in-house wellness programs and have found that penalties work better than incentives in fostering employee participation. These companies should expand their programs and share best practices.

The United States is home to 139 of the 2010 Global Fortune 500 companies. Clearly, we have a talented business sector and we need to maintain our strength. Obesity is a large obstacle for our continued economic growth, and businesses need to play an active role in curbing the epidemic. Complex problems like obesity can only be solved by an alliance across all sectors. Companies need to recognize the negative impact obesity has on their bottom line and start focusing on reducing obesity in their workforce. When businesses apply their skills to the obesity crisis, innovative solutions may emerge.

This is part of a series exploring the current obesity epidemic.

To learn more about Catarina Rivera, visit her website.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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About Being Latino Contributors

Being Latino contributors consists of individuals and partner organizations. They join us in our goal of providing our audience with a communication platform designed to educate, entertain and connect all peoples across the global Latino spectrum. Together we aim to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchanging of ideas. Giving a unified voice to the multitude of communities that identify with the multidimensional culture that is Latino.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. Sylvia says:

    This is a RIDICULOUS post and so consistent with the latest fade of “personal responsibility” and the lack thereof being the cause of all of our ills. Catarina, let me tell you what really hurts our economy: 1) LACK of access to health care including prevention measures and early health interventions; 2) a fragmented health care delivery model that penalizes coordination and rewards high volume; 3) food deserts where poor people do not have access to quality fruits and vegetables; 4) unprecedented use of sugars and sugar products in a whole array of foods; and 5) the massive FRAUD of Wall Street on poor and the middle class that has led to the largest loss of personal wealth among the poor and middle class since the Great Depression.

  2. @Sylvia Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. The first four points that you make are actually contributing factors to the obesity epidemic. We are addressing these factors in future articles in this series which I hope you will check out. The last point that you make is related to the economy and no one can argue that the current economy has hurt the poor and middle class. However, that is a recent issue and not related to the points that I am making in this article. I am stating research evidence about how obesity hurts the bottom line. I am arguing that businesses should come up with their own solutions for the obesity crisis and get involved since it affects them too.

  3. @Sylvia Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. The first four points that you make are actually contributing factors to the obesity epidemic. We are addressing these factors in future articles in this series which I hope you will check out. The last point that you make is related to the economy and of course the current economy has hurt the poor and middle class. However, that is a recent issue and not related to the points that I am making in this article. I am stating research evidence about how obesity hurts the bottom line. I am arguing that businesses should come up with their own solutions for the obesity crisis and get involved since it affects them too.

  4. made a typo, corrected below

  5. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Hmmm, I’m on the fence on this one. In reality, nearly anything under the sun can and does affect “productivity” and “the bottom dollar” (and a spinoff point would be a philiosophical debate questioning the merits of our current put-the-bottom-dollar-first, capitalistic society and if the “bottom dollar” is truly the only/best measurement of a “successful” business. But I digress). For example, many parents (particularly single parents) miss work due to childcare issues such as an unreliable babysitter not showing up. So, why don’t employers provide in-office daycare centers? Or require parents in the workplace to provide childcare verification, and reward those who use a 5-star center while penalizing those who rely on abuelita (who may be sick one day herself).

    Another frequently cited cause of tardiness/absenteeism in the workplace is the ubiquitous “car trouble.” So, why don’t businesses provide in-house mechanics and auto-repair shops? Or better yet, why don’t they implement some type of program where if their car doesn’t pass certain office-set criteria, the employee is penalized? And those with a nice, reliable, 2011 Nissan that always starts on the first turn of the key get rewarded?

    Better yet, why don’t companies pay their employees reasonable wages that actually reflect the cost of necessities such as reliable childcare and transportation? Oh, wait — because that would detract from the “bottom dollar!”

    My point is simply that, like obesity, employee productivity is a complex issue that rarely has a solution that lies completely in “do it or else.” So while it would be great for companies to offer benefits for emloyees to take advantage of if they so choose, it’s ridiculous to imply that they should REQUIRE them to do so, or penalize people who don’t. The root causes of obesity are not that simplistic, while a “reward you if you’re skinny, penalize you if you’re fat” approach is.

  6. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    On a side note, my name is Nancy, and I am fat (visuallize me standing up in front of a room full of other foodies/fatties who say, “hi, Nancy!” and burst into applause.) I won’t pretend that my, or any single person’s, individual experience is representative of the whole, but I can say that I have never had absenteeism or productivitiy issues in the workplace (for health or any other reasons).

    Typically it’s the skinny, overpaid administrative bobbleheads in miniskirted business suits who do.

  7. Vanessa says:

    @ Nancy, I do not understand why you felt the need to put “skinny”, “bobblehead” and “miniskirted” in the same sentence considering you were bashing the author for stereotyping overweight individuals.

    In regard to the article, I understand that the point of the article was to explore the economic issues related to obesity but it focuses on missing work and decreased productivity at work when obesity also cost millions of dollars in health care. Obesity-related health problems (in adults and children) also put an economic strain on society (medicare) and families who have to buy the medication and pay hospital visits. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and we as a society need to come up with solutions that are accessible to everyone, no mattes what SES. Many businesses and insurance companies do offer compensation for attending the gym so many days out of the month. In addition, there is an increase in school programs to promote an active lifestyle and healthy eating options.
    I love eating, eating has always been associated with family time (enchiladas, carne asada, tacos, pan dulce, ect.), but there is a level of “personal responsibility” when addressing this issue even if it is just saying NO to that extra taco. I am not the epitome of “fit” by any means but I do recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for myself, for my future family (kids and grandkids), and for society.

  8. nycgirl says:

    I think companies that are doing these types of things are ridiculous. This is a very sensitive and personal issue and no one’s job should be in jeopardy b/c of their weight I think it’s very discriminatory. You can advise someone and provide an iniative but at the end of the day it’s up to them to lose weight or not. As long someone is doing their job properly that’s what should matter.

  9. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    @ Vanessa: I felt the need to put it because it’s true.

    Ha! JUST KIDDING, calm down. Yes, it is wrong to stereotype someone for their weight whether that weight is too high or too low. However, irony is a commonly used literary technique to underscore one’s point through humor and juxtaposition. In other words: I realize I was contradicting myself. That was the point. Sorry you missed it.

  10. hola everybody, mi english not good, im latino i live in minesota a few years ago. few time ago mi doctor tell me i have diabetes type 1. diabetes afect a lot latinos, be informed!!! http://on.fb.me/JovenesConDiabetes

  11. Hurrah, that’s what I was exploring for, what a stuff! existing here at this blog, thanks admin of this web site.

Trackbacks

  1. […] You’ve probably heard and read plenty about the obesity epidemic in the United States, the country where even the majority of household pets are overweight. You probably also know that obesity leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and even a lighter wallet. […]

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