Not long ago in America, companies created smoking areas for smokers to enjoy their breaks. Airlines, hotels and restaurants had designated smoking areas to accommodate those who enjoyed lighting up. Before then, people smoked just about anywhere they pleased.
Today airlines (100% there), hotels and restaurants are trending toward being totally smoke free. Want a smoke break? Step outside (until cities begin the ban on smoking in public places). It’s been stunning how the attitude of society spun on this topic so quickly.
Expect to see the same type of societal spin with the obese population in our country.
New research is showing just how costly obesity is to employers throughout the country, with a total annual cost of $73.1 billion, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. With health care costs spiraling out of control, society needs to blame someone – and who is easier to blame than the obese?
Many non-smokers are now hostile in their reaction to being exposed to secondhand smoke and to those who continue to smoke. Overweight children have been ridiculed for generations, but the tipping point is coming soon where American society will share the same derision openly and corporately.
Why corporately? It comes down to one word: Money. Corporations are realizing the profit potential of eliminating this obesity cost. Other countries are also recognizing the need to control heath care costs.
In Japan, being thin isn’t just a desire – it’s the law. The government has set waistline standards and companies administer annual check-ups of employees. Companies are required to reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 percent by 2012 and by 25 percent by 2015. If companies don’t comply, they are hit with high penalties paid into the government coffers for health care for the elderly. It has created a society with a serious focus on weight and health, even though their obesity rate is less than 5 percent. The obesity rate in the United States is nearly 35 percent.
What will this mean in the coming years for our country?
Our Business Wisdom says:
- Obesity will become a significant target of corporations and federal and state governments trying to control health care costs.
- Lawsuits will be won by citizens suing unhealthy food providers. Those providers will also face disincentives for providing unhealthy foods through taxes and penalties from government entities.
- Wellness programs and annual weight checks will become part of corporate employee control, as commonplace as drug testing is now.
- We could see an obese tax on individuals as the government gets more involved in providing health care.
- Society will express its contempt for obese people more vocally, similar to what we have seen with smokers in the last few years. The pressure will be significant and the comments brutal.
- New organizations will start up targeting specific age group obesity issues by creating specific weight reduction programs for corporations.
- Obesity support groups will be commonplace as will as facilities targeting senior wellness.
- Fast food providers will begin to add healthier options to value menus because of the shifting trend toward reducing obesity, the cost of heath care, and the cost of their own unsuccessful lawsuit defenses.
Now is the time to ramp up employer wellness programs as well as communicate the necessity for individuals to work on their personal weight issues before obesity becomes illegal in the United States. I myself have dropped 40 pounds in the last 12 months, although I still have a long way to go before I am in the “legal” or normal range for my height. I know I’d rather do it for myself before I have to lose weight under corporate or government mandate.