Fat and Getting Fatter – What are Employers to do?
This recent quote from a Dallas Morning News story is troubling to say the least:
At the current rate of weight gain, by 2030, 57.2 percent of Texans will be obese. That could lead to 13 million more cases of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart failure and stroke, arthritis and cancer.
There has been a lot of time spent in this country arguing over the merits of health care reform including a trip up to the United States Supreme Court. Regardless of one’s views on health care reform, there is a universal truth with respect to to the health of Americans. We are fat and getting fatter. The implications for our health care system range from more incidents of diabetes, heart disease and about every other bad health condition. It is not an overstatement to say this is an epidemic. Employers will have to deal with this through lost work time, inefficiency, and increase health care premiums. So the question is what to do?
Earlier in the year, we profiled several instances of employers using health related factors to make hiring determinations. This ranged from not hiring smokers to one hospital’s attempt to hire individuals based on their BMI Index. I believe that these trends will continue as employer’s attempt to avoid hiring individuals with certain health risks. Of course this conduct will always border on some type of actionable discriminatory conduct that employers will have to be sensitive to.
Wellness programs are often a good start towards improving health conditions in the workplace. I was recently in an office that had taken this step of creating secretarial stations where secretaries and other administrative staff could do work, usually for half hour intervals, while walking on a treadmill. Certainly this is a great step towards allowing for exercise and promoting healthy habits. Other companies do things such as offering a wide range of medical tests such as cholesterol, body fat etc. for their employees. Others participate in fun runs or walks, and even monitoring what is kept in the company kitchen to ensure there are not too many M&M packages. Most employees appreciate these types of efforts and they can contribute to morale and health.
No matter what the employer’s face chooses to do, something is better than nothing. The prospects of America’s future health are not good. The continued rise in obesity not only impacts health but will have a debilitating effect on our nation’s economy as more and more money is devoted to health care.