Employer Group Weighs in on Obesity Risks

June 17, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employers are going to get some help from a new organization to help them cut down on employee waste - er, waists.

The Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH) today launched the Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity to help corporate America reduce the impact of obesity and weight-related conditions in the workplace.

The Institute, which includes some of the world’s largest corporations and federal health agencies, plans to explore the “epidemic of obesity,” propose solutions and strategies, and serve as a catalyst for change, according to the WBGH.

Obesity Costs

“Obesity has a devastating impact on the health of employees and, by extension, on their employers,” said Vince Kerr, a physician and Director of Health Care Management at Ford Motor Company, one of the Founding members of the Institute.   “Organizations lose more than $12 billion per year due to higher health care utilization rates, lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, elevated health and disability insurance premiums and other consequences associated with obesity and weight-related conditions.   Addressing this growing epidemic has never been more critical.”

The Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity is the first of its kind and is structured specifically for a corporate audience, according to the WBGH.   It will serve as a resource on the issue, and will also identify strategies to decrease the incidence of obesity among US workers.

“Research has shown that the overall impact of obesity on health and costs outweighs even that of smoking,” said Helen Darling, President of WBGH.   “As a result, no company in America can afford to ignore the problem of obese and overweight employees. High obesity rates among children, changing workforce demographics and the upward trajectory of health care costs mean employers’ obesity-related direct medical costs and indirect costs of lost productivity will continue to escalate unless we take concerted action to support workers’ efforts to reduce obesity and choose healthier lifestyles.”

Kit Opened

The Institute has already released its first product, an Employer Toolkit report on weight management that offers ways to support employees’ desires to have healthier lifestyles.   Over the next two years additional initiatives are planned, including:

  • a national weight awareness initiative,
  • issue briefs,
  • an online resource center and
  • a Corporate Summit that will bring large employers together to discuss obesity-related challenges and share effective solutions and strategies.

The WBGH Founding Board includes Fidelity, Ford Motor, General Mills, Honeywell, Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo, Quebecor World, Saks, Starwood Hotels, the US Department of Health and Human Services Health and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the American Association of Health Plans, Aetna, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and Whole Health Management.

Additional information about the Institute is available at www.wbgh.org .  

Materials from the December 2002 Summit on Obesity, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes are online at http://www.wbgh.org/programs/cphs/disparities/obesity_summit.php#top