January 09, 2020
New data and research are upending traditional thinking about weight and weight loss, and informing new ways to address the escalating obesity epidemic. For employers seeking to align their weight management strategy with the latest evidence, this resource offers recommendations on creating a comprehensive benefits package to treat obesity, including behavior-based interventions and pharmacological and surgical treatment.
A note on language: To reduce weight stigma, this guide promotes the consistent use of people-first language (e.g. employees with obesity instead of obese employees).
Prevalence of Obesity
We are backsliding in the battle against obesity. Overweight and obesity have been increasing while some studies suggest weight loss attempts are decreasing.
Health Effects of Obesity
Obesity is causally linked to the 3 most expensive preventable conditions covered by private payers for adults less than 65 years: cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.4,5 Obesity is associated with roughly the same chronic disease burden as 20 years of aging.13
Among U.S. adults, overweight & obesity account for an estimated:
- 10-20% of all cancer cases
- 50-85% of type-II diabetes cases
- 15-30% of osteoarthritis cases.
U.S. healthcare costs attributable to obesity now exceed those related to alcohol and smoking.
76% increased risk of short-term disability among employees with obesity.14
10% of all U.S. absenteeism costs are attributable to obesity.15,16
For each BMI point above the healthy range, average medical costs increase $194-$222 per year, per employee.
Causes of Obesity
Obesity is a complex, chronic disease. Successful weight management strategies enable employees to appropriately access a spectrum of evidence-based treatments.
Why It’s So Hard to Keep the Weight Off
For decades, professionals have advised eating less and exercising more to lose weight and keep it off, but science shows that weight loss – and maintenance – is not so simple. Here’s why:28,29
- Our body weight settles at a setpoint - the amount of fat our brain believes is necessary to sustain proper functioning.
- Everyone has a different setpoint in part determined by genetics.
- To maintain its setpoint, the body reacts to weight loss by increasing the drive to eat and slowing the metabolism.
- These changes, along with other physiological, psychological and environmental factors, make weight loss and maintenance difficult, but not impossible.
- Effective long-term treatment of obesity requires reduction of the fat mass setpoint toward normal.
Employees are fighting biology in their quest to lose weight and keep it off. For every pound of weight lost:29
This helps explain why only 10% of people with obesity are able to maintain weight loss for more than a year.30
Designing a Comprehensive Weight Management Strategy
Obesity is a complex, chronic disease. Successful weight management strategies enable employees to appropriately access a spectrum of evidence-based treatments.
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More TopicsArticles & Guides Culture and Strategy Physical Health
IntroPractical Playbook: Managing Overweight & Obesity
Part 1Managing Overweight and Obesity: Behavior-based Interventions
Part 2Managing Overweight and Obesity: Weight Management Drugs
Part 3Managing Overweight and Obesity: Bariatric Surgery
Part 4Managing Overweight and Obesity: Workplace Culture & Design