New Recommendations to Help Employers Manage Obesity

Published in January Issue             

Effective prevention and treatment, including coverage of bariatric surgery, can help employers improve their bottom lines as their employees’ health, according to a new ACOEM (American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine) Guidance Statement, published in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"Our findings support the use of both lifestyle modification and bariatric surgery to assist appropriate patients in losing weight," write ACOEM President and Panel Chair Charles M. Yarborough III, MD, MPH, and colleagues in the statement entitled, “Obesity in the Workplace: Impact, Outcomes, and Recommendations.”

The evidence-based recommendations were developed by a 15-member multidisciplinary panel, including experts in occupational medicine, public health, obesity medicine, bariatric surgery, internal medicine and endocrinology, based on a systematic review of the study literature on obesity related to the workplace.

According to the ACOEM, in addition to its effects on worker health and safety, obesity in the workplace has a major impact on health care costs, absenteeism, and productivity. Annual costs for obesity-related absenteeism alone are estimated at $8.65 billion.

The guidance statement outlines treatment recommendations including implementing workplace wellness programs and behavioral counseling to help employees adopt healthy lifestyles. Based on studies showing health and economic benefits, the expert panel also recommends employers offer insurance coverage and access to bariatric surgery, without requiring a six month medically supervised diet prior to surgery. The guidelines state, “Bariatric surgery has been shown to be the most effective method for weight loss and prevention of recidivism.”

Evidence-based Recommendations for Addressing Obesity in the Workplace

The following recommendations are from the guidance statement:

  • Offer appealing, healthy choices in cafeteria and/or vending machines
  • Provide healthier food at meetings and other employee events
  • Ensure access to safe walking areas for employees/encourage employees to use
    the stairways
  • Offer wellness classes on nutrition, exercise, and weight management
  • Offer memberships or discounts to health/fitness clubs
  • Offer regular health screenings/Health Risk Appraisals for employees
  • Encourage peer support – organize employees to work together as teams and compete with one another to meet weight loss goals
  • Implement a workplace wellness program that provides mechanisms to aid employees in adopting healthy lifestyles
  • Offer behavioral counseling to employees
  • Offer coverage/access to bariatric surgery (without requiring a supervised diet for 6 months prior to surgery) to individuals with a BMI >35 kg/m2 and type 2 diabetes or individuals with a BMI of 30-35 kg/m2 with type 2 diabetes who are not optimally controlled by medical therapy

“It is essential that employers both large and small develop more effective plans and policies that address the realities of obesity among employees,” said coauthor John Morton, MD, Chief, Bariatric and Minimally Invasive Surgery, Stanford School of Medicine and Past-President, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). “Those that do will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace and the people that work for them will be happier, healthier and more productive.”

The Guidance Statement also identifies key areas for further research, including studies to clarify and maximize the benefits of obesity medications and bariatric surgery.

Samer Mattar, MD

“As a Society, we fully support the recommendations and look forward to assisting in their dissemination and implementation,” said ASMBS President Samer Mattar, MD.

In addition, to Dr. Morton, ASMBS members who served as panel members and coauthors on the statement included Stacy Brethauer, MD, Shanu Kothari, MD, David Sarwer, PhD, and Mitchell Roslin, MD.

"In this much-needed and sentinel document, specialists from multiple fields related to obesity and population health management have compiled critical information from evidence-based studies and made recommendations to begin to counteract this national epidemic,” said Dr. Roslin, Director of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. “It is becoming widely known that companies with healthy employees succeed and have better employee and customer satisfaction. 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."

Support for the ACOEM project on obesity in the workplace is through funding from Covidien LP, a subsidiary of Medtronic plc.