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Impact of worker obesity can be managed with prevention, treatment programs: ACOEM

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Elk Grove Village, IL — Wellness programs and insurance coverage that includes bariatric surgery can help manage worker obesity and alleviate its economic costs to employers, according to a recently released guidance statement from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The recommendations come from a 14-member multidisciplinary panel assembled by ACOEM that reviewed 275 articles on interventions addressing obesity in the workplace.

Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or more, affects nearly 38 percent of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Absenteeism, one factor related to worker obesity, costs employers $8.65 billion annually, according to one study the panel reviewed.

Other ramifications for employers include increased risk of injury to employees, higher health care costs and decreased productivity. Modern workplace factors that can increase or obstruct management of obesity include job and social stress, fatigue from overwork or shift work, fewer manual labor jobs, and more desk-related jobs.

“Whereas the impact of obesity on life expectancy, diabetes, sleep apnea and health care costs are frequently discussed, the hidden damage and consequences of obesity on the American workforce are less-known and incredibly detrimental,” study co-author Dr. Mitchell Roslin, director of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said in a Jan. 8 press release. “Obesity is a key determinant of health, yet increasing at alarming rates. The importance of adding greater awareness and better programs to combat obesity to the workplace cannot be overstated.”

However, a recent online survey reviewed by the panel that gauged participants’ perceptions of medical services provided by their health insurance showed that respondents reported low prevalence of coverage for obesity treatment such as consultations with a registered dietitian, bariatric surgery, medications designed to promote weight loss and medical weight management programs.

Survey respondents whose employers provided access to wellness programs reported more coverage for obesity treatment. The panel recommends that employers use workplace wellness programs and behavioral counseling to help employees adopt healthy lifestyles, as well as offer insurance coverage and access to bariatric surgery for treatment of obesity.

The guidance statement was published online in January in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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