Healthy at Work
Changes in society, including increases in the use of technology at work, have contributed to obesity and obesity-related diseases over the last half century. This has led to higher health care costs and reduced productivity for employees. That, in turn, hurts a company's bottom line. Employers, therefore, have a strong economic interest in employee health. Making workplaces healthier is an important step in improving the health of individuals and in improving the health of the nation overall.

What Does the Workplace Have to Do with Obesity?

The average working adult spends nearly 10 hours working, traveling to and from work, and engaging in work-related activities daily. The workplace environment can have an important effect on a person's overall health.

How the Workplace Environment Can Influence Your Eating and Physical Activity:


  • Most people eat at least one meal at work. Many eat several snacks as well. This can lead to purchasing unhealthy meals and snacks from nearby restaurants, convenience stores, and vending machines.
  • Because people are busy with work, they often look for convenient food options. Fast foods or packaged foods may seem more convenient, but they are often high in calories and low in nutrients.
  • Having foods visible and easily available, like boxes of muffins in the break room or a dish of candy on the secretary's desk, can lead to more eating.

Physical Activity:

Advances in technology, including the use of more computers and machinery, have led to changes in the amount of physical activity people get at work. Men and women burn 100 fewer calories per day on the job than they did 50 years ago for several reasons:72

  • For many people, the majority of work time is spent sitting at a desk.
  • New technologies and a shift to more service-oriented rather than manual-labor jobs, has led to occupational physical activity.
  • Americans spend approximately 100 hours each year commuting210.
    • 86% of Americans drive to work; that is triple what it was in 1960
    • Only 5% take public transportation and about 4% bike or walk75

The Economic Costs of an Unhealthy Workforce

  • Obesity can decrease productivity, leading to more absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while sick or feeling unhealthy), all of which lead to lost output for businesses211.
  • Obesity and related diseases have driven much of the increase in healthcare costs for employers.
    • Obese persons spend 77% more on necessary medications than non-obese people212.
    • Medical expenses are 42% higher for an obese person than for a normal weight person83.

Creating Healthier Workplaces

Worksite wellness programs can make a difference:

  • In one study, for every dollar spent on wellness programs medical costs fell by $3.27 and absenteeism costs fell by $2.73 for every dollar spent213.

Here are some techniques to create a healthier workplace:

  • Increase access to opportunities for physical activity, healthy eating, and health education
  • Offer structured physical activity opportunities for groups, like yoga or weight training
  • Set healthy eating and physical activity goals, and build social support by group goal setting or check-ins214
  • Provide facilities like lockers, showers, and bike racks to help encourage active commuting or physical activity during breaks215
  • Conduct a Health Risk Appraisal to understand the health of employees
  • Form a wellness committee to spearhead initiatives for making healthy changes at the work place
  • Start a lunch group
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