With the productivity costs of obesity on the rise, employers need to measure how the issue is affecting them, a speaker told the audience at Benefits Canada‘s 2018 Healthy Outcomes conference in Toronto.

“Insurers are sitting on tons of data that can be used to make a calculation to start to get the baseline, so you start to understand where you are today and where you want to go,” said Noel MacKay, a member of the steering committee for the ACTION study on obesity in Canada sponsored by Novo Nordisk.

Last year’s study aimed to find out how employers and employees could collaborate towards better health outcomes. It found 55 per cent of employers thought obesity was an extremely or very serious problem. Of those offering a health plan, 40 per cent scored well on coverage for obesity treatments and medications, with 46 per cent agreeing it was partially their responsibility to help their staff with weight loss.

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When it came to barriers for employers looking to tackle obesity, 50 per cent thought the biggest issue was cost, with 43 per cent suggesting a lack of demand from employees. Further, many employers aren’t measuring anything in regards to obesity.

“Only 45 per cent of the people who said [they] were doing wellness measured in any way . . . and 42 per cent have tracked outcomes of health benefits for weight management. So less than half did any kind of measurement on their wellness program,” said MacKay.

Among employees, 74 per cent think weight loss is entirely their responsibility. Factors they considered as contributors to their weight were long periods of sitting, stress over work and long hours. While nearly all employers said they had a wellness program, 39 per cent of employees with obesity believed their workplace didn’t have one. Only 35 per cent of obese staff said they’ve used their employer’s program.

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“Maybe it’s not because your wellness program isn’t there; maybe it is not targeting obesity or people with obesity aren’t seeing value in it and they’re not participating in it,” said MacKay.

Employers need to rigorously assess the effectiveness of their programs, he said, suggesting something as simple as checking whether obesity medications fall under lifestyle drugs in a benefits plan contract could be a big help. “It’s an old-school terminology that’s still sitting in some contracts, but that’s where obesity medications fall.”

Read more coverage from the 2018 Healthy Outcomes conference.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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