World Obesity Day: It’s Everyone’s Business

March 4th marks World Obesity Day.

March 4th marks World Obesity Day. This year’s theme, “Changing the Narrative Around Obesity Globally”, helps to address an important mindset shift that needs to occur in order to effectively tackle this topic – the need to acknowledge obesity as a disease. Employers can play a unique role in changing the tide of the growing global epidemic. Here are the facts: in 2016 alone, almost two billion adults were overweight globally.1 Of these adults over 650 million had obesity.2 The World Health Organization also estimates that almost three billion adults will have overweight and obesity by 2025.3 These statistics are not only alarming, but will only increase if proper action is not taken. Obesity and overweight have a direct impact on the health and productivity of employees by increasing risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.4 As employers, the health and well-being programs that you implement can significantly impact this sobering reality.

Obesity and overweight are top of mind for many employers. In fact, over 60% of the Business Group’s Global Institute members see obesity and weight management as one of their biggest priorities when addressing physical well-being. Many are actively trying to change the course of this epidemic at their worksites around the world, through:

  • health and well-being coaching;
  • personalized health challenges;
  • nutrition policies at on-site canteens and cafeterias;
  • promoting physical activity by providing gym subsidies or gym reimbursement;
  • pharmacology - 53% of large employers in the U.S. cover FDA approved weight management drugs; and
  • surgery - 92% of large employers in the U.S. cover bariatric surgery.

While employers are making strides to address overweight and obesity, there remains much work to be done. This is especially true when it comes to addressing the stigma around obesity. Instead of being recognized as a disease, a common misperception is that obesity is the result of lifestyle choices. A mindset that considers obesity solely a result of behaviors ignores the complexity and scientific evidence related to genetics, individual set points and a person’s metabolism.5

Employers around the world have a role in addressing this epidemic by promoting comprehensive solutions, treatment and prevention in the workforce. Addressing obesity can also address other pillars of a company’s well-being strategy given the relationship to mental health and social connectedness. Challenges to addressing obesity across multiple countries have similar themes to challenges employers face when addressing mental health such as: stigma, access and cultural considerations. A holistic approach can have a ripple effect on all facets of well-being.

What can employers do?

  • Begin changing the narrative in your workplace by discussing obesity as a disease.
  • Address stigma. Many companies promote anti-stigma campaigns for mental health.Consider how such programs could be leveraged to address stigma around obesity to help break down any barriers.
  • Provide support for employees through weight management programs.
  • Improve the use of and access to evidence-based treatments such as prescription drugs and bariatric surgery.
  • Develop and implement a global nutrition policy.
  • Encourage physical activity (make staircases visible and the first choice, instead of elevators, and consider onsite fitness centers or gym vouchers)

Come join the conversation at this year’s Global Summit!

Business Group on Health Resources:

Additional Resources: