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WBGH Studies Obesity’s Impact On Corporate America

The Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH) has launched the Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity to help corporate America reduce the impact of obesity and weight-related conditions in the workplace.

The new institute, which includes corporations and federal health agencies, will explore the epidemic of obesity, propose solutions and strategies and "serve as a catalyst for change," according to Helen Darling, WBGH president.

Devastating Impact

There is a critical need to focus on the problem of weight-related issues and establish a workplace wellness link, according to institute members.

"Obesity has a devastating impact on the health of employees and, by extension, on their employers," said Dr. Vince Kerr, director of Health Care Management at Ford Motor Company, one of the founding members of the institute.

"Organizations lose more than $12 billion per year due to higher healthcare utilization rates, lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, elevated health and disability insurance premiums and other consequences associated with obesity and weight-related conditions," he continued.

Structure And Strategy

The institute is structured specifically for a corporate audience, Darling said. It will serve as a resource for large employers on the health and cost repercussions of obesity and related chronic conditions, and will identify effective strategies, including workplace health promotion efforts, to decrease the incidence of obesity among U.S. workers, she added.

In addition, the group will develop and disseminate "clear messages that stress obesity’s preventable nature as well as its role in physical and mental health," Darling noted.

"Research has shown that the overall impact of obesity on health and costs outweighs even that of smoking," she said. "As a result, no company in America can afford to ignore the problem of obese and overweight employees."


The institute has released an "employer toolkit report" on weight management that offers ways for corporations to support employees’ desires to achieve healthier lifestyles, according to Darling.

Other institute projects and initiatives planned for the next two years include a national weight awareness initiative; issue briefs; an online resource center; and a corporate summit that will bring large employers together to discuss obesity-related challenges and share effective solutions and strategies.

"Crucial Forum"

"The institute provides a crucial forum for private and public organizations to work together to develop innovative, proactive strategies for addressing obesity and its implications," said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the division of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"No single company or agency can solve the problem of obesity and its impact on the workforce," he continued. "Instead, a collaborative approach that combines research with strategic implementation is critical."

Founding Board

A founding board comprised of key stakeholders interested in helping corporations respond to the nation’s obesity epidemic oversees the institute, Darling said.

Board members include Fidelity Investments; Ford Motor Company; General Mills; Honeywell; Morgan Stanley; PepsiCo; Quebecor World; Saks Incorporated; Starwood Hotels; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; CDC; the Institute of Medicine; the American Association of Health Plans; Aetna; Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group; and Whole Health Management, according to the institute.

Playing A Role

"Ultimately, every company in the United States can and should play a role in combating the obesity epidemic," said Darling. "Even small, inexpensive initiatives such as providing nutritional information in company cafeterias or encouraging workers to take the stairs contribute to worker health."

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