Protecting Your Workforce from Obesity-related Complications of COVID-19

Millions of Americans—more than one third of the population—are obese. What many might not realize is that obesity is a serious risk factor for hospitalizations and complications from COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Even those who are overweight but not categorized as obese may be at greater risk. The CDC lists the following as obesityrelated risk factors in regard to COVID-19: 

  • May triple the risk of hospitalizations 
  • Linked to impaired immune function 
  • Decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult 
  • Increases the risk of death as BMI increases 
  • May be linked to lower vaccine responses for numerous diseases

 

To add urgency to the situation, 117 million adults, or nearly half of all adults in the US, have at least one chronic disease related to their diet or physical activity.

Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight can be especially challenging during difficult times such that we’re in right now. On top of the risk factors related to obesity, the pandemic itself has, according to providers, caused weight gain among many of their patients. In a survey of individuals trying to lose weight during the pandemic, many reported high levels of: 

  • Stress eating 
  • Eating out of boredom 
  • Higher food consumption 
  • More opportunities to eat 
  • Higher consumption of junk foods.

 

More than half also said that their exercise strategy had been impacted.

It should come as no surprise that most overweight and obese individuals want to lose weight. Over the past decade, the percentage of people on a diet at any given time increased from 14% to more than 17%. Conversely, the number of Americans considered to be obese increased from 34% to 42% during the same time period. The problem is not that individuals aren’t trying hard enough. And it’s not that they’re failing with their diets. The fact is that their diets are failing them. 

According to Natasha Vani, B.ScM.Sc, NDDirector, Exercise and Nutrition at Newtopia, “We have found that when patients focus on adding healthy habits instead of focusing on deprivation, they achieve greater, longer-lasting weight-loss and health improvements. Dr. Vani explains that the most effective plans are those that are designed to align with an individual’s existing lifestyle and unique personality. This is different from traditional weight loss programs where everyone is given a one-size-fits-all curriculum.”  

The best weight-loss plans according to Dr. Vani are those that are part of a broader health and well-being program, one that taps into each person’s unique goals and motivations. These become an impetus for improving health and preventing disease, not just losing weight alone.  

So where can individuals go to access a more personalized health and well-being program to not only lose weight, but to reduce the risk of chronic illnessOne of the best options is through an employee benefits program. Employers who offer such programs stands to gain significant medical cost savings while improving productivity. Consider these facts: 

  • Work-related injuries are 25% higher for obese employees than those of a healthy weight. 
  • Obese employees file twice as many workers’ compensation claims. 
  • Medical claim costs are 7 times higher for obese patients. 
  • Obese employees average 10 times more days off for illness or work-related injury. 

 

The good news is that even a small weight loss can create substantial health improvements. The National Institutes of Health reports that “a modest weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”

Success in Action 

Newtopia recently partnered with a global retailer with approximately 14,400 employees worldwide. They wanted a disease prevention program that focused on reducing BMI and other chronic disease health risks. The goal was not only to improve employee health but also to reduce the company’s escalating medical-related costs. 

Newtopia’s personalized, evidence-based approach to bodyweight reduction and sustainable habit change proved effective in helping participating employees lose the milestone body weight needed to achieve measurable health improvements. The program included testing for genetic biomarkers that can influence a person’s ability to lose or gain weight, and provided dedicated coaches—called Inspirators—who offered one-on-one support to every participant throughout the entire program.  

Using weight loss as the indicator, program participants worked towards a 12-month goal of 5% bodyweight reduction. This trend is consistent with Newtopia’s Randomized Controlled Trial results. The majority of employees achieved weight loss milestones of 2.5% by month three, 4.0% by month six, and 5% by month 12. At the end of six months, 90% of participants were still engaged—a number almost unheard of in health benefits programs. 

The cost savings opportunities of such a program is significant. According to Newtopia research, a healthy employee costs an employer around $3,400 a year in medical costs, not including productivity. When that employee has one to two risk factors for metabolic syndrome, meaning out-of-range waist circumference (BMI), elevated blood glucose, elevated blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, or low HDL cholesterol, the cost increases to $4,400. For employees with three or more risk factors, the cost increases to $5,400 a year. Clearly, a high-performing health and well-being program can bring significant return on investment.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the danger of obesity. We already knew it was a factor in so many chronic diseases. Now we know it is also a significant factor in COVID-related hospitalizations and complications. Now is the time for employers to take action. It’s not too late. A comprehensive health and well-being program can be implemented at any time. Why not start today?  

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