We’re pleased to announce that once again, Fabien Loszach has been published in an industry publication for his expert opinion regarding employee health and wellness. Fabien was featured in the March 2012 edition of OHS Canada, the Occupational Health & Safety Magazine.
In this article, Fabien makes the case for businesses to take action against rising trends in obesity, by understanding employee motivations and creating wellness initiatives to respond to their needs. Scroll down for the full article, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Business Moves on Inactivity
By Fabien Loszach
Reinventing the way employers do business can help in the battle against physical inactivity — a growing concern that threatens to put workplaces on the losing and costly end of employee un-wellness.
Without a drive by Canadian employers to improve the daily lifestyle habits of their employees, obesity will have a dire impact on Canadian businesses’ competitive ability.
By establishing recreational physical activities for workers, companies can help reverse the ever-expanding influence of physical inactivity. Providing subscriptions to gyms or setting up sports teams in a bid to increase activity levels are obvious solutions. However, employees typically go no more than once a week, which is not frequent enough to kick start a reversal of fortune.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week to prevent obesity. That may be advice worth taking since, as the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in Ottawa reports, 25 per cent of adults are obese.
The key for business leaders is to find out what will motivate employees to live more healthy lifestyles, through group discussions and anonymous surveys. By getting a firmer grasp on employee needs, employers can create wellness initiatives that encourage high rates of participation, thereby maximizing positive impact.
As part of well-conceived health and wellness policies, some companies have found the following measures effective: promoting walking and using stairs instead of taking elevators; starting a running club; purchasing furniture that encourages upright posture; hiring instructors or trainers to host fitness classes once or twice weekly; and installing climbing walls or elliptical trainers on the premises.
Beyond these, solutions may be organizational in nature, including flexible schedules that offer employees the time and means to be more active.
Up and away
The WHO reports obesity is responsible for numerous chronic diseases — think cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain types of cancers — and for ever-increasing health costs. “Obesity in Canada,” a joint report by PHAC and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, offers these numbers: “It is estimated that obesity cost the Canadian economy approximately $4.6 billion in 2008, approximately $735 million or 19 per cent more than the $3.9 billion it cost in the year 2000. This is a conservative estimate, because it includes only the costs associated with the eight chronic diseases most often connected to obesity. Another study based on a similar approach that takes into account 18 chronic diseases concluded that the costs are much higher, reaching up to $7.1 billion.”
Although obesity may be linked to a genetic predisposition, the role of environmental factors — namely nutrition and lifestyle choices — is nonetheless fundamental. Dieticians point to growing portion size (a typical portion of French fries in a U.S. fast food restaurant is three times larger than it was in 1955) and increased consumption of sugar, fat and salt, substances found in large quantities in snacks, processed foods and beverages.
But there is also the extremely important role of lifestyle choices relating to daily habits, means of travel and commuting, and work and family life.
Carl-Étienne Juneau, Ph.D. candidate in public health from the University of Montreal, has shown there is now a greater percentage of overweight or obese individuals — this despite the fact that Canadians have reduced caloric intake and increased physical activity since the 1970s. In fact, the percentage rose from 49.2 to 59.1 between 1978 and 2004.
The idea has been put forward that obesity may be linked to a decline in the number of jobs that require strength or physical activity, explained by an evolution in the nature of professional work. “We estimate that daily occupation-related energy expenditure has decreased by more than 100 calories, and this reduction in energy expenditure accounts for a significant portion of the increase in mean U.S. body weight for women and men over the last five decades,” notes the research article, “Trends Over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity.” In the early 1960s, the article notes, “almost half of private industry occupations in the U.S. required at least moderate-intensity physical activity and now less than 20 per cent demand this level of activity.”
Add to the mix that the increase in time devoted to leisure and recreation has been matched by time spent in front of the television or computer, and the widespread adoption of commute by car versus travelling by foot.
Ultimately, employers must understand the needs and motivations of their employees, and take action to get them more active in their daily lives. Otherwise, Canadian businesses will fall victim to increases in costs and decreases in productivity, resulting in a great risk of falling behind in global business competition.
Loszach Report provides a comprehensive employee wellness diagnostic and report, helping organizations target health and wellness initiatives that maximize return on investment.