How Pandemic Weight Gain Impacts the Workplace and What to do Now

Oct 20, 2022 10:00:00 AM

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Although, officially, the COVID-19 pandemic has moved to the rearview mirror, its impact on North Americans’ long-term health lingers. A recent, nationwide study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that obesity increased 3% during the lockdown, with an average .6% rise in body mass index caused by more frequent snacking and alcohol intake and less frequent physical activity. In Canada, similar factors led to unintentional weight gain in 42% of the population, with 39% reporting a weight gain of at least 11 pounds.

Now employers are considering strategies to help both returning employees and those still working remotely regain control over lifestyle habits and drop that extra weight. Why should that matter to employers? Obesity impacts not only individual employees but the entire company through:

  • Increased absenteeism (more sick days and longer sick leaves)
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased compensation claims
  • Higher risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes

One thing we learned from COVID-19 is the value of a strong support system in motivating people to make healthy lifestyle choices. That can come through various corporate wellness offerings, from healthy cafeteria options to on-site wellness classes, however those may not work as well in the remote-work environment. What does work for everyone is a mobile health app that includes positive coaching and accountability available anytime and anywhere your employees need it.

Here are three ways a strong digital solution can help workers lose weight as well as tackle other health challenges: 


  1. Providing in-the-moment coaching

Most health apps include some form of coach feedback, but they only offer one-on-one interactions weekly or, at best, once a day. That approach leaves participants unmotivated and ill-equipped for the day-to-day -- even moment-to-moment -- challenges they encounter.

Instead, look for a program with unlimited, on-demand coaching. Participants should be able to post photos of their meals or workouts, or message coaches with questions, at their convenience. They should hear back from coaches quickly so they stay engaged and have the information, advice and encouragement they need, just when they need it.

Here’s how you can calculate potential medical cost savings by offering a digital chronic disease prevention program as an added benefit to members.

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  1. Setting goals and celebrating successes

Research shows that incorporating an individual’s goals and motivations into a behavior change plan increases the likelihood that the individual will be successful. That’s why the best digital health apps include the important step of collaborative goal-setting in their onboarding process. Coaches should help each participant set achievable goals and then refer to those goals in providing encouragement and accountability.

For instance, coaches for Yes Health’s Healthy Weight program advise participants to start with a goal of losing 5% of body weight, even if the ultimate goal is 50 or 100 pounds. As the participant reaches each goal, coaches reach out to commend the participant and celebrate the success, as well as set a new, achievable goal. This pattern helps participants stay motivated and move forward with confidence. 

  1. Working around individual preferences

Strict, prescriptive diets can work for a time, but they don’t have staying power in helping people achieve successful, lasting weight loss. That’s because as soon as individuals lose the weight, they return to eating the foods they prefer, which creates a cycle of weight fluctuation and discouragement.

The best digital health apps encourage participants to eat the foods they already enjoy while helping them make small, gradual adaptations. For instance, a Yes Health coach might recommend a smaller portion of meat or a larger portion of vegetables. The coach might suggest ditching a bun or substituting a lower calorie sauce or choosing whole-grain over processed. In the end, the goal is to help participants enjoy the foods they eat, while eating smarter for the sake of their health. 

By determining your goals and listing the qualities that will best serve your workforce, you can sift through a sea of app options to find the one that really fits. To read more suggestions on how to make that choice, download our free eBook: Digital Health Apps: What to look for when selecting apps for your digital health portfolio.

Once you develop a short list, you should schedule demos with each company to see the app in action and see how it would work for your employees. To speak with someone about Yes Health’s digital, in-the-moment health coaching platform, schedule a demo here.