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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 2 – As overweight and obesity rates surge worldwide, large employers are uniquely positioned to address the chronic medical conditions on multiple fronts, according to a just-released report, “The Global Landscape for Overweight and Obesity: A Guide for Employers.”
“Overweight and obesity, which require a comprehensive approach, are top health concerns for employers around the world,” said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health, the premier non-profit organization representing large employers’ perspectives on health, well-being and workforce strategy issues. “Employers play a major part in offering quality health care, understanding obesity’s inextricable link to mental health, lessening the stigma surrounding it, and addressing some of the social determinants of health.”
By 2025, one in five adults worldwide will be affected by obesity, the report states, illustrating the need for its prevention, treatment and management.
The World Health Organization defines obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health” and uses body mass index as a data point, though it is not a perfect measure. Generally, overweight exists with a BMI greater than or equal to 25, while obesity has a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
In addition, obesity, which has a direct correlation with other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer, also takes an economic toll on employers, the publicly available guide states. The condition boosts the demand for additional extensive and costly health services, while increasing employee presenteeism (working while not well) and absenteeism.
Moreover, it took a global pandemic to “put obesity on the map,” Olivia Barata Cavalcanti, Ph.D., director of science and programs for the World Obesity Federation, shared on this week’s episode of the Business Group podcast, also timed to coincide with World Obesity Day and National Obesity Care Week.
Obesity is a both a risk factor and a disease that requires a “multi-stakeholder approach” which is culturally appropriate for different global regions, Barata Cavalcanti said.
This approach could include governments providing affordable paths to obesity treatments and regulating ultra-processed foods, and employers ensuring that all workers have access to healthier workplaces and mental health services.
She cited the example of India, which has the double burden of malnutrition and overweight or obesity, saying that employer and government awareness of the “serious coexistence of problems” must be part of creating plan for prevention, treatment or management.
Another example is in South America, she said, which has become of “one of the leading regions in the world in terms of regulation of junk food.”
The Business Group guide also underscores the need for employers to communicate specifically and holistically the availability of any well-being programs, policies and supplemental company health plans, in addition to any relevant government programs.
Business Group on Health has made other materials about overweight and obesity available, including an infographic showing the percentage of large employers around the globe offering programs to manage the conditions.
About Business Group on Health
Business Group on Health is the leading non-profit organization representing large employers’ perspectives on optimizing workforce strategy through innovative health, benefits and well-being solutions and on health policy issues. The Business Group keeps its membership informed of leading-edge thinking and action on health care cost and delivery, financing, affordability and experience with the health care system. Business Group members include 70 Fortune 100 companies as well as large public-sector employers, who collectively provide health and well-being programs for more than 60 million individuals in 200 countries. For more information, visit www.businessgrouphealth.org.