Obesity: A Weighty Issue for Employers

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Since the 1980s, obesity rates have doubled for adults and tripled for children. While the overall trend slowed from 2015 to 2016, obesity continues to be a growing concern in the US (NY Times). The overweight/obesity epidemic touches all regions of the country and age groups, but is especially serious for low-income individuals and racial minorities.

Being overweight or obese directly impacts a person’s health, quality of life, and life span. It’s a major cause of rising healthcare costs for all payors, including employers who cover health benefits for employees and their families.

Read Brandon Conroy’s blog, Metabolic Syndrome—A Medical Term for the Ticking Time Bomb, to learn more.

Overweight/Obesity Statistics

According to the CDC, a prevalent number of Americans are obese, affecting 93.3 million US adults:

  • 4 in 10 adults are obese
  • 2 out of 10 children are obese.
  • The longer children remain overweight or obese, the more likely they are to be obese as adults.

Adult obesity rates decreased in Kansas, but increased in the following states between 2015-2016:

  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • Washington
  • West Virginia.

The rates remained stable in the other states. Click on the map to the right to see the prevalence of adult obesity by state and territory using self-reported information from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Obesity Costs

Obesity is a contributing factor to many health conditions, and is one of the leading causes of preventable death.

Obesity contributes to:

high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and triglyceridesheart diseasestroketype 2 diabetescertain types of cancerdementia/Alzheimer’s diseasemental health issuesliver, kidney, and gallbladder diseasearthritis

According to the CDC, obesity associated costs range from $147-$210 billion per year.

  • Absenteeism costs employers $43 billion annually.
  • Productivity losses cost employers $506 per obese worker per year (org).
  • Childhood obesity, alone, is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs. Obesity-related medical costs in general are expected to rise significantly, especially because today’s obese children are likely to become tomorrow’s obese adults (Healthy Communities).

Cost of Obesity Hits Low-Income Americans Hard

Healthier foods like fruit and vegetables cost more than unhealthy, processed foods. That difference in cost is one reason lower-income individuals are more likely to be overweight or obese than those with higher incomes:

  • 33% of adults earning less than $15,000 are obese
  • 6 of adults earning $50,000+ are obese (stateofobesity.org).

The more out-of-pocket costs low-income individuals must pay for medications like insulin, heart medication, inhalers, etc., the less money they have to spend on every day necessities and nutritious food, further compounding the problem.

stateofobesity.orgSource:

Read my previous blog, A Look at the Health Conditions Driving Employer Healthcare Costs, to learn more.

What Can You Do as an Employer?

There are many wellness and targeted disease management programs on the market. To understand which one(s) will work for your employee population requires data. You need to know what your issues are and offer programs targeting those problem areas.

Once you understand your population’s health, work with your benefit advisor to design the right programs that will meet your employees’ needs. Don’t forget that spouses and dependents also contribute to your costs, so consider including them in your efforts on addressing the obesity epidemic.

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