Childhood Obesity Impacts Future Workforce. Here’s How Employers Can Turn the Tide
Nov 17, 2022 10:00:00 AM
Obesity in children continues to rise, with more than 1 in 5 (22%) U.S. children now affected, up from 18% 10 years ago, according to a recent study. That’s very bad news for kids, because extra weight can harm nearly every system in a child’s body, from the heart and lungs to kidneys and hormones. Obesity also puts children at risk for type 2 diabetes and increases the likelihood of social and emotional hardship.
Why does that concern you as an employer? Those children are your future workers, who may enter adulthood overweight or obese and at higher risk of chronic, lifelong illnesses. That translates to higher medical costs for employers, not to mention impacts on productivity and absenteeism.
But employers can take steps now to reverse that trend by focusing on programs and policies that empower their parents. Here’s what you need to know to get started:
Where Parents Go, Children Follow
A large body of evidence supports the idea that children’s lifestyle habits largely reflect the lifestyle habits of their parents. For instance, children raised in a home with an abundant and diverse selection of fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables. Children offered super-sized portions eat 25-29% more than when they’re offered an age-appropriate amount.
A similar pattern relates to activity level. A Canadian study found that a child’s level of physical activity rises by 5-10 minutes for every 20-minute increase in the parent’s physical activity. On the flip side, the child’s sedentary time increased by 8-15 minutes for every hour the parent spent inactive.
Evidence like this tells us that the primary emphasis in reducing childhood obesity should be on reforming unhealthy lifestyle patterns in parents. But can employers influence what happens in the home? Believe it or not, they can. Here are four simple but effective strategies employers can use:
- Make healthy eating easier – Companies can look for ways to increase the presence of, and emphasis on, healthy foods and decrease the unhealthy foods. For instance, some companies have worked with their vending machine suppliers to replace nutrient-poor snack foods and soda with healthier options such as non-sugary beverages, fresh fruit, baked (not fried) chips, string cheese, nuts, dried fruits and sealed sandwiches. You can also make sure your cafeteria offers healthy meal choices and smaller-portion options for those who want it. Some companies even have worked with local farmers to offer farmers markets on-site. But if that’s not possible, you can easily provide a list to employees of the nearest farmers markets and their hours of operations. Finally, encourage managers in your company to think of other ways to celebrate milestones besides (or in addition to) donuts and cake. A beautiful fruit tray, sushi platter or whole-grain chips-and-salsa make for a beautiful party and don’t leave the entire staff with a blood-sugar-crash an hour later.
Offering your employees digital tools with a nutrition focus can also help. Mobile health platforms like Yes Health have digital libraries with informative articles and healthy recipes, and offer opportunities ask questions to licensed nutritionists.
- Encourage work-life balance – About two-thirds of families with children have both parents working full time. That means less time and energy to create wholesome, home-cooked meals, and more calorie-dense meals grabbed on the go. Employers can support working parents by emphasizing and enabling family-friendly scheduling. That might include flex-time, so at least one parent can be home to cook dinner; or, consistent work hours with minimal overtime, so parents can create healthy rhythms that include family mealtimes.
When families do eat out, your employees may appreciate a mobile health tool that provides feedback on the meals they select. For instance, with Yes Health, users can post a photo of their meal and get quick responses about the nutritional value and portion size, as well as suggestions for making health swaps in the future.
- Integrate physical activity – Find ways to promote activity among your employees so they can become healthier and model an active lifestyle for their children. That can include on-the-job offerings such as walking meetings or on-site health classes. Or, it can include extracurricular activities like sponsoring a company softball or charity-run team, offering discounts to local gyms and encouraging lunchtime walking groups. Don’t forget to provide online options for busy working parents. Many health apps, for instance, offer exercise videos and workout plans employees can do at home.
- Provide coaching – Because lifestyle change is hard and often fleeting, it’s important to pair all the above strategies with the power of personal health coaching. Having a coach in their corner provides the support and accountability your employees need to set goals and achieve them, one day at a time.
Busy working parents especially appreciate mobile coaching platforms like Yes Health, because they can interact with coaches when it’s convenient for them: when they have a question, feel discouraged, lost or gained a pound or want feedback on a meal or workout. Yes Health offers 12X the number of coaching interactions compared to other mobile programs, which ensures your employees stay engaged and interested for the long haul.
Forging a Healthier Path Forward
The pandemic may have caused a setback in healthy practices, but weight loss and disease prevention are possible with strategic lifestyle changes. In fact, many workers are more motivated than ever to re-start their lives with healthier practices and patterns. Why not provide your employees with exceptional wellness benefits and a corporate culture that support their health – and the health of their children, the next generation of employees?
Yes Health’s AI-enabled coaching platform should be one tool in your benefits toolbox. Our unique, all-mobile Diabetes Prevention, Healthy Weight and Concierge Health programs offer in-the-moment coaching by a whole team of nutrition, fitness and wellness experts. We help your employees set manageable goals and make the day-to-day choices that lead to success—all from the convenience of their mobile device, and on their timeframe, not ours.
Read our 3-Program Guide, “Yes Health for Employers,” for more details. Then schedule your live demo and consultation to learn how Yes Health can support your company’s wellness goals.