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Workplace weight problems

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Not like you didn't know this already, but Americans, as a whole, tend to be fat and getting fatter. With obesity having established itself as public health enemy No. 1, it's no wonder that employers are putting themselves on the scales and weighing their own responsibilities.

There are plenty of statistics floating around to illustrate obesity's rise to the top of the workplace-wellness food chain. General Motors—groaning under the weight of healthcare costs—says its obese workers and covered dependents (26 percent of the total beneficiaries) each cost the company bout $286 million in extra annual healthcare spending. Experts suggest that we're already at the point where overweight and obese employees far outnumber healthy-weight workers in the U.S. workforce.

Now, workplace wellness pro­grams are a well-established part of the business landscape, and many employees and enterprises see them as desirable benefits. But others are still skeptical of what they see as faddish or paternalistic attempts to change workers' private lives and lifestyles. These negative views become even more pronounced when you focus specifically on get­ting people to lose weight.

That's why experts recommend focusing on health rather than weight. People are understandably sensitive about their body image and appearance, and they tend to balk at what sounds like moralizing about the sin of gluttony. However, they respond well to a clear discus­sion about the health impacts (and the resulting bottom-line impacts) of obesity—in which their weight is just one of many factors that they can control.

A teamwide commitment to well­ness is likely to work better at pro­ducing the desired results. Making healthy habits a team goal, one to actively pursue for bona fide business reasons, can do a lot to reduce the frustration we feel individually as we try to lose weight, eat right and get fit. And a wellness program is an effective and valuable way to support team­work and build morale, even aside from its direct goals and benefits.

Look around and identify the bad influences that promote obesity and discourage wellness. These aren't just the obvious things like the junk-food-filled vending machine or the regular Friday afternoon happy hours. Take a closer look at group norms that are often established without thinking. For example, do your people typically take a proper, unhurried lunch break? Or do they feel like they have to dash out for a quick bite to eat from the nearest fast-food place? Or do they end up skipping lunch entirely—and then filling up on snacks? By identifying and changing these unhealthy norms, you can do a lot to make your team not only healthier but also happier and even more productive.

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