Obesity and Healthier Eating
Healthier Workforce Bulletin

Obesity and Healthier Eating
Unhealthy eating habits can lead to higher body mass index (BMI) and evidence shows that as a worker’s BMI increases; so do their short-term absences, ability to perform on the job, and their healthcare costs.  In a 2010 study by Finkelstein et al. looking at annual costs of medical expenditures, absenteeism and presenteeism associated with overweight and obese full-time employees, costs ranged from $-$322 for overweight men to $6694 for grade-III obese women (BMI >40). 
Obesity (BMI >30) is related to increased risk for chronic disease including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  It has also been linked to more difficult and expensive recovery times from illness and injury and to increased risk of certain occupational diseases or conditions like musculoskeletal disorders, asthma, and vibration-induced injury.  These direct and indirect costs motivate employers to seek strategies to help their overweight or obese employee’s dietary habits and to help their normal weight employees maintain good eating habits.

For the Employer
Workplace dietary programs that influence employees across multiple levels and make healthy foods the easy choice are shown to be the most effective.  Resources and tools for designing and implementing an evidence-based program with approaches at environmental, policy, organizational, social and individual levels are highlighted here or download a pdf version. Activities and resources for employers to share with their employees are also included.

Featured Resources
CDC’s LeanWorks! is a free web-based employer resource for designing workplace obesity prevention and control programs. The program includes specific recommendations, a step-by-step implementation process, templates, toolkits, and promising practices. The CDC’s Obesity Cost Calculator is also a useful resource and enables you to estimate the costs of obesity based on the characteristics of your company.

Take a Total Worker Health Approach
Obesity’s link to adverse health effects from certain occupational exposures means employers should consider approaches to protect their employees most at-risk.  Workplace dietary programs and messages that integrate both work related risk factors and obesity may improve results and support longer-term effectiveness of weight-loss and weight management programs.  By taking a Total Worker Health™ approach, messages would link the benefits of a healthy diet and healthy weight to protection against occupational hazards.

Want to Learn More about Total Worker Health?
Join a free webinar from the NIOSH Total Worker Health™ Program on February 25, 2014 from 2:30-4:00 CT on "Making the Case for Total Worker Health: An Overview of Opportunities and Approachs." Learn about the Total Worker Health concept and the evidence base for an integrated approach to workplace wellness and safety programs. For agenda, presenter and registration information, click here.

Pilot Project Grants Available for Community Organizations, Faculty and Students
The HWCE is pleased to announce the request for proposals from community-based organizations, faculty and students. Applications are sought from organizations to develop approaches, methods and documentation for implementing or evaluating a Total Worker Health Employer Program among small employers. Applications are sought from faculty and students for new and creative research that focuses on integrated approaches to worker health. Projects must integrate health protection and health promotion. Click here for application and project details

Call for Abstracts for the 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health
The NIOSH Total Worker Health™ Program is now accepting abstracts for the 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health™, which will take place on October 6-8, 2014 in Bethesda, MD. Proposals are being accepted for posters, pre- and post-symposium workshops, plenary sessions and two types of concurrent sessions: scientific paper or practice/intervention sessions and symposia sessions. The Symposium will explore research, practices, programs and policies that advance the overall health, safety, and well-being of workers through integration of health protection and health promotion. More information available at

For the Researcher
Studies are recommended to further validate the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI) questionnaire and the National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS) measure for estimating absenteeism and presenteeism.  More research is also needed to understand the institutionalization and sustainability of dietary interventions and the long-term effectiveness of weight management and weight loss programs.  Future research is furthermore recommended to determine the extent of how the work environment and work practices promote or discourage the development of overweight or obesity and how obesity is related to risk of occupational diseases and injuries. Finally, more studies on interventions that can be realistically applied to small business settings are warranted.

Supporting Literature
Finkelstein E, Fiebelkore IC & Wang G. The costs of obesity among full-time employees. American Journal of Health Promotion, September/October 2005, 20(1); 45-51.

Finkelstein EA, Dibonaventura MdC, Burgess SM & Hale, BC. The costs of obesity in the workplace. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, October 2010, 52(10); 971-976.

Hersey J, Williams-Piehota P, Sparling PB, Alesander J, Hill MD, Isenberg KB, et al. Promising practices in promotion of healthy weight at small and medium-sized US worksites. Preventing Chronic Disease 2008; 5(4).  Accessed January 30, 2014.

Kahn-Marshall JL & Gallant MP. Making healthy behaviors the easy choice for employees: A review of the literature on environmental and policy changes in worksite health promotion. Health Education & Behavior, 39(6); 752-776.

Shulte, PA et al. Work, obesity, and occupational safety and health. American Journal of Public Health, March 2007, 97(3); 428-436.

Qunitiliani L, Poulsen S, & Sorensen G. Healthy eating strategies in the workplace. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Sept 2010, 3(3); 182-196.

Employer Tip of the Week
Tips related to employee safety, health and wellness will be shared weekly through Facebook, Twitter and the HWCE website.  Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to automatically receive tips each week.

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Upcoming Webinars & Events
A more detailed listing with registration links is available through our online calendar of events.

* CBJ Health Care Summit & Corridor Worksite Wellness Awards Luncheon
-February 14, 2014 from 7:30am-1:30pm; Hotel at Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids, IA
The HWCE is pleased to co-sponsor the Summit and Associate Director for Outreach, Dr. Jennifer Hall, will present the 2014 Corridor Worksite Wellness Awards during the luncheon
Agenda and registration information available here.
* 2014 Fight for Air Climb
-Sunday, March 16, 2014 in downtown Des Moines, IA.
-More information here
* Free Webinar: Making the Case for Total Worker Health: An Overview of Opportunities and Approaches
-February 25, 2014, 3:30-5:00 EST
-Click here for agenda, presenter and registration information.
* Wellness Council of Iowa Wellness Huddle
-February 20, 2014 in Des Moines on Culture & Employee Engagement
-Agenda available here.
* Wellness Council of Iowa Wellness Huddle
-March 6, 2014 in Waterloo on Culture & Employee Engagement
* Iowa Governor’s Conference on Public Health
-April 1-2, 2014 in Ames, IA; HWCE Associate Director for Outreach, Dr. Jennifer Hall, will present on April 2nd on “Creating a Culture of Total Worker Health” and will be promoting Total Worker Health throughout the conference.  Connect witth Dr. Hall downstairs with the worksite wellness activities. Registration brochure available here
* Healthy Iowa Conference on CultuRevolution and Building a Sustainable Iowa through Wellness
-April 17, 2014 in Des Moines, IA; Event information will be available here.
* Iowa-Illinois Safety Council’s 61st Annual Conference & Expo
-April 23-25, 2014 in Cedar Rapids, IA
-Agenda and registration information available here
* 2014 Occupational Health Psychology Summer Institute: Advancing Theory and Practice in the Context of Total Worker Health
-July 16-18, 2014 at Portland State University, Portland, OR
-Registration information available here.
* 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health™
-October 6-8, 2014 in Bethesda, MD; The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Health™ Program is currently accepting abstracts. Click here for more information on the conference and the call for proposals.

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Please note that the “links” to other informational sources are provided for your professional development. The HWCE does not take responsibility for information contained beyond the files administered by the Center and does not represent the endorsement of commercial products.

  The Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence (HWCE) is one of four TWH™ Centers of Excellence funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Our mission is to improve the health of workers in Iowa and nationally through integrated health promotion and health protection research, collaboration with peer institutions, and dissemination of successful interventions.
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