With two-thirds of the American workforce overweight, evidence of a health crisis is mounting. Yet, despite such skyrocketing statistics, employers often lack choices and time to dedicate to finding a corporate weight loss program that fits. A 2013 ConscienHealth study of 5,000 employees found nearly 60% stated their employers don’t provide for fitness training, dietitian counseling, obesity drugs or bariatric surgery.

Despite this lack of support, Reuters reports nearly 40% of companies will institute higher insurance premiums or deductibles for employees who don’t meet certain health standards associated with obesity.

Here are some tips for helping time-crunched clients choose the right corporate weight loss plan.

1) Crunch the numbers

The first step is often quantifying the case for a weight loss program. If the percentage of obese and overweight employees and associated impact on the health care costs of the company is high, action is critical. According to the American Heart Association, the total excess cost related to obesity in the U.S. for 2013 is estimated to be $254 billion in lost productivity and direct medical care. A Duke University study finds each obese employee costs a company close to $1,500 a year in additional health care expenses. The higher the potential return on reducing overweight and obesity, the more financial and leadership support the company may provide for weight loss.

2) Understand the broader strategy

Weight loss is often only one part of a broader wellness strategy. Evaluating where a company stands in the development of its strategy can support decision-making based on need and timing. If it already has biometric screenings in place, the company can likely quantify the need for weight loss based on a percentage of employees and dependents with a Body Mass Index above a healthy range. If the company is implementing an outcomes-based approach, it may be looking for an evidence-based weight loss program to serve as a reasonable alternative. If there is a broader wellness incentive point system in place, it might be worth asking if the weight loss program can provide participation and outcomes data to feed into it. Through our direct client experience, we have noticed a link between the strength of a corporate wellness landscape and how likely it is that a weight loss program will succeed.

3) Consider company culture

It’s important to also take into account the broader culture of an organization. Is the company known for its strong sense of community? Do employees feel connected to the mission of the company or to each other? Or are they on the road every week working remotely? Asking these questions may help determine whether a group or individual weight loss program would be a fit — and whether onsite or virtual options should be made available. What about the role of wellness in the company’s culture? For instance, does the cafeteria promote healthy food options? Does the company offer onsite fitness classes? Are employees given the opportunity to take active lunch breaks? This can indicate how supportive the employees’ environment will be to a weight loss program. Identifying the programs that will fit into an organization’s culture, and those that have options to meet the needs of different segments of the employee population, will be key.

4) Evaluate influencers

Consider how the company has successfully communicated new initiatives. Make sure to engage the right influencers early on to help vet potential programs that fit and identify the right strategy for implementation. Research from Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital suggest workplaces are ideal for reducing obesity, mainly for their naturally occurring social settings. In other words, healthy behavior change can inspire similar behavior in others. This is what experts have called the “social contagion” theory. That’s why it’s critical to foster relationships with key people in an organization, as they can lead by example and better communicate the importance of personal weight loss and wellness.

5) Consider outcomes

When recommending a specific weight loss program, make sure to be data-driven. Many vendors use great branding and design to distract from their lack of outcomes. Or they measure success by level of participation rather than outcomes, which is merely a means and not an end. Look for evidence-based program design and make sure the program has a medical advisory board. Ask for data on outcomes. Quite simply, employers need to know how weight loss programs will impact their bottom lines. Guiding them towards outcomes-based options will help them make a quantifiable change.

According to a 2013-14 survey by Towers Watson, 75% of employers surveyed cited obesity as their greatest risk. Clearly, it’s crucial for employers to make employee health a priority. As a result, there are many wellness programs to choose from. However, by following these simple tips, you may be better suited to bring employers together with the best corporate weight loss vendor to best achieve goals for success.


Hyman is CEO of Retrofit . Reach him at jeff@retrofitme.com.

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