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Cut the Company Fat: 7 Strategies to Keep Your Costs Down by Keeping Your Staff Healthy

By Dr. Leslie Van Romer

Fat is creeping in and eating up your profits, probably without you even knowing it. At least 66 percent and up to 85 percent of all Americans are overweight; 33 percent are obese (thirty or more pounds overweight). You only have to open your eyes to see that at least one out of three people (and probably more) at work are carrying around too much weight. Their inflated bottoms may actually be deflating your company’s bottom line.

Overweight and obese workers impact American companies by lowering productivity, raising worker claims, mushrooming medical costs, and increasing lost workdays. Look at the stats: 

  • Overweight and obese Americans cost the nation between $69 billion and $117 billion per year.

  • Obesity is associated with 39 million lost workdays, 239 million restricted workdays, 90 million bed days, and 63 million physicians’ visits.

  • Three main conditions related to obesity are type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease, costing employers more than $220 billion annually in medical care and lost productivity.

  • The average absence away from the workplace for a worker who files an obesity-related short-term disability claim is 45 days.

The good news: you don’t have to fall into the same trap as the average American business. By trimming the excess weight in your employees, you will sharpen your edge and outshine your competition. It takes a two-pronged strategy to effectively tackle your the workplace obesity epidemic. The employer and the employee must work together to transform flab into fab – fab bodies, fab health and fab money in everyone’s pockets. Let’s explore these seven strategies for your company makeover.

1. Provide Healthy, Weight-Friendly Food Options: If you own a small company with forty employees or less, consider removing the soda and candy vending machines and replacing them with large fruit bowls, boxed 100 percent fruit juices, and bottled water – all free of charge. With a larger company, you could offer affordable, more nutritious options in vending machines and cafeterias, such as fresh fruits, fruit salads, large vegetable salads with tasty low-cal dressings, veggie sandwiches on whole grain bread, bean and rice wraps, and low-fat, low-salt bean and vegetable-based soups. Give employees coupons for making healthier food choices. For example, with five coupons the employee wins a healthy lunch on the company.

2. Create a Healthy, Weight-Friendly Work Environment: No matter how small or large your company, if your employees (not to mention you), are bombarded at work by doughnuts, cookies, muffins, candy, and soda, then their efforts to get slim and fit will be sabotaged, no matter how motivated your employees  are to lose weight.

Dare to be bold. Dare to be different. Dare to be defiant. Ban high-calorie, no-nutrient, refined and processed junk foods and beverages from your workplace. Then, replace them with weight-warriors and health-heroes – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, raw unsalted nuts and seeds, dried fruits, and water. Your actions speak volumes about your clear intentions to help your teammates and employees help themselves and help the health of your company.

3. Plan Healthy, Weight-Friendly Meetings and Lunches: Restaurant foods are typically incompatible with weight loss. Schedule meetings after or before lunchtime. Meetings conducted without food can be run with greater efficiency, saving time and money. If you wish to offer snacks, make sure they are good-for-you snacks, such as grapes, oranges, apples, bananas, sliced watermelon or cantaloupe, dried fruit, or cut-up veggies with hummus or avocado dip.

If a business lunch is unavoidable, choose a restaurant that offers healthier, weight-friendly choices, such as large, vegetable salads, low-cal soups, and veggie sandwiches (nix the mayo). Take a look at the side dishes. A baked potato covered with sautéed-in-water vegetables, instead of butter and sour cream, following a green leaf salad, fits the health bill.

Encourage employees to prepare healthy, weight-wise snacks and lunches from home. Provide a pleasant eating area and a convenient kitchen with a refrigerator and microwave so everyone can easily store and heat up their brown bag meals. The healthy snacks they pack could be just the trick to stave off unhealthy cravings for fast food, chips and candy.

4. Encourage a Healthy, Weight-Friendly Exercise Program at Work: Start with inexpensive, low-tech changes, such as encouraging the use of stairs instead of elevators. Make sure the stairwells are clean, freshly painted and well-lit with alarmed stairwell locks on the ground floor in larger buildings. Send out frequent bulletins and reinforce the message in meetings to bring brown-bag lunches and take brisk walks every day. Map out safe walking routes. If possible, create a walking/jogging path. Good sneakers should be worn to work or kept at the office at all times. Fifteen-minute breaks can be used for walking while munching on healthy fruit and veggie snacks, instead of sitting and eating chocolate bars. Give out pedometers and organize a fun walking contest. The person who walks the greatest total distance in one month will be rewarded with a gift certificate or cash. That will spark some exercise interest!

For a bigger investment, think about paying half or more of the dues for your team members to work out at a local gym. As an added incentive, they must prove three-time-a-week attendance, or they will lose that privilege. Or, set up an adequate gym at the office so working out is free (employees love free!), convenient, and accessible to everyone, whether before work, at lunchtime or after work. As your team shapes up, so will your company, giving you a substantial dollar return on your investment.

5. Design a Healthy, Weight-Friendly In-House Program: Create a comprehensive healthy living program for all of your employees that gives simple direction, hope, support, and accountability.

Offer periodic, motivational health presentations, hands-on workshops and individual eating and exercise plans, designed to help your team members define their weight and health starting point, set their yearlong and monthly goals, and then track their progress.

Included in that program could be guest speakers, on-site nutrition and fitness experts, fact-finding questionnaires, well-body score cards to chart progress, consultations, weekly support phone calls and e-mails, a weight-loss support group, hands-on cooking and food-prep classes, appropriate CDs, and weekly articles.

6. Offer Healthy, Weight-Friendly Cash Incentives: Propose cash incentives to make losing weight and getting fit more fun and alluring to your employees. Offer annual bonuses to all employees whose weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides stay within normal ranges. Give cash rewards to the employee who loses the most weight in one month, three months, or a year, as well as to the person who maintains ideal weight for a pre-planned period of time. You can make the competitions friendly and fun, and include the entire company, as well as their families. Family participation and support are key to a successful transition to a healthier lifestyle.

7. Lead Healthy, Weight-Friendly Changes: You are a leader, a visionary. You can see the possibilities for you, your team and your company. And there is nothing more powerful than leading by example, incorporating the basic food and exercise principles that promote ideal weight, build health, and prevent premature disability and diseases. Leading is not about perfection; it’s about progress – steady progress toward your vision. Leading is about sending the clear message that you care about the members of your team. You demonstrate that daily by the level of your commitment in providing a weight-friendly and health-supportive environment, door-opening opportunities and meaningful rewards for a job performed with consciousness and excellence.  

Is it tough to lose weight and keep it off? You bet. But together, you and your team will beat the obesity odds, and out-perform, out-smart and out-live your heavy-weight competition.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Leslie Van Romer.

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