Creating Cultures of Health

Obesity statistics are staggering. More than 1/3 of the U.S. population is obese, and more than 60% of the population is overweight or obese. The impact on employers is enormous. According to a study by Duke University, obesity among U.S. full-time employees is estimated at $73.1 billion. Surprisingly, it isn’t absenteeism or medical costs making up the largest share of the $73.1. Presenteeism, the total value of lost productivity as a result of health problems, costs employers the most.

That means the lost time between arriving at work and starting work, losing concentration, repeating a job, working more slowly, feeling tired, or doing nothing at all hits a company’s bottom line hard. Really hard.

Some organizations, like Dow Chemical Company  who was recently featured on NPR, recognize the direct relationship between the health of their employees and lost productivity and health care costs. Dow offers subsidized gym membership, fitness and nutrition specialists, increased health care coverage for weight and diabetes management, classes on how to read food labels, and weight loss support groups. But Dow also knew that to change behavior they had to change culture.

Most organizations don’t come close to providing what Dow Chemical does. So we all pay the price. Instead of cutting costs through layoffs, restructuring, hiring freezes, and eliminating bonuses, perhaps we should also actively create cultures where employees are encouraged to:

  • Use the stairs
  • Participate in “walk meetings” and “walk lunches”
  • Set an alarm every 20 minutes with a reminder to stretch, move, or change positions
  • Park in the farthest corner of the parking lot
  • Bike to work
  • Drink water or tea
  • Reenergize with a 10 minute sun salutation
  • Pack a lunch and snacks from home to avoid the sodium and fat that plagues most cafeterias

In what ways have you seen organizations play a positive role creating cultures of health?