As someone who has become increasingly overweight in the last few years, every time I read or write about obesity being referred to as a ‘lifestyle condition’ it makes me physically cringe.

Yes, some poor diet choices have contributed to my current physical condition, but it’s much more complex than that. And I know others who have struggled with obesity for years, trying to make those ‘lifestyle changes’ and not seeing any results. Because for many, there are underlying issues that can’t simply be solved by proper diet and exercise.

When people are struggling with their health, they often turn to their workplace benefits plan for support. Unfortunately, with the way things currently are, many people struggling with obesity will find little to no help in the form of benefits coverage.

Read: Webinar coverage: Obesity a complex, misunderstood medical condition

The obesity treatment space is still evolving and being studied, but there are some proven solutions that could be covered under benefits plans. According to the Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines, the three pillars of evidence-based obesity treatment include cognitive behavioural therapy, pharmacotherapy and bariatric surgery. In addition, medical nutrition therapy and physical activity are important parts of effective obesity management.

Obesity is also associated with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease and even mental health. Knowing there’s such a strong link between obesity and other serious health conditions that are covered under benefits plans, it would only make sense for insurers to increase coverage as a preventative measure for conditions they do cover.

One of the most notable drugs in recent years, Ozempic, is intended to be used for diabetes management but the positive impact on weight loss has resulted in a massive prescribing increase. According to a 2023 Express Scripts Canada report, semaglutide was the top traditional drug by overall spend for private drug plans in both 2021 and 2022.

Read: How plan sponsors, insurers are considering coverage of weight-loss drugs amid rising use of Ozempic

Some of these patients may be demanding Ozempic for vanity reasons and not because they’re obese, but this off-label prescribing craze is a clear indication that a significant amount of people need help with weight loss.

Looking to the workplace, obesity can have direct negative effects with employees experiencing lower energy levels and decreased productivity. If someone is struggling with the mental-health component and not feeling good about themselves, it can be difficult for an employee to bring their best self to work.

Employers should also consider the issues of accessibility and inclusion when it comes to obese employees. It can be difficult for larger people to use amenities like small bathroom stalls or desk chairs, so the workplace should be inclusive for all shapes and sizes where applicable.

Thankfully, it seems as though the perception and categorization of obesity is changing in the benefits sector, but it’s still in the early stages and more work needs to be done. Employers and employees should continue to advocate for better coverage so that people struggling with obesity won’t have to feel unsupported when turning to their benefits plans for help.

Read: Update benefits plans, workplace policies to treat obesity like any chronic disease