When an issue, such as obesity, hits the “in your face” pitch it’s at now, I get a bad gut feeling. The obesity epidemic, and the war on obesity news obsession, seems too magnified right now. Last week the word “obesity” managed to dominate headlines again. The news being, it’s worse than we thought!
In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) (against the advice of its scientific committee) classified obesity as a disease. But I am betting the reason for that ruling had a lot more to do about reimbursement schemes than science.
If the media would engage with experienced and qualified
health researchers, they’d begin to understand that being way
too skinny or way too fat are bad for your health.
The meaningful health risks associated with weight are at both extremes. And the numbers of people in both those areas of extremes seem to be growing. So, there is no denying it’s a problem.
For overweight people not at the extreme, I think we’re buying into a powerfully incorrect social construct − that being overweight is an automatic sentence for being diseased and being expensive to care for. And that misperception is hurting the relationships many overweight workers have with their employers.
When I was just beginning in the wellness business, a study came out that hinted at the importance of social connections versus biomarkers to evaluate health status. I think the findings have been verified during the following 30 years, and the conclusions should finally be front-page news. I am so idealistic at times it can be a little embarrassing. Being socially connected is the thing we’re missing in improving the health of millions of people.
“Individuals with close ties and unhealthful lifestyles lived longer than those with poor social ties and more healthful behaviors.” – Alameda County Study (7,000 people studied over nine years, American Journal of Epidemiology 1979)
In fact, I think a strong argument could be made that thinness, and the pursuit of it, are more harmful to the health of Americans than simply being overweight. There isn’t a lot of money to be made on that issue, however.
And you should know that I am not a “pissed off fat guy.” The body types of my friends and family don’t concern me. And I believe workplace wellness programs are wasting valuable time and resources trying to “cure” overweight people who are not sick.
It just doesn’t make sense to ostracize overweight people within a workplace culture with all the negative incentives I am hearing about. And I don’t think workplace weight-loss programs offer any sustainable results.
“Nothing in the scientific literature over the last quarter century is as well documented as the abject failure of weight-loss interventions. Yet, they continue to be one of the most common wellness interventions at the workplace.” – Jon Robison, MPH, PhD
Take a closer look around your own workplace, and you’ll discover many overweight people to be energetic, creative, in constant motion, and (believe it or not) focused on the core competency of the business. They may choose to lose some weight and keep it off, at some point. But it won’t be because of a workplace weight-loss program.
If you’re in the wellness business, and you’re trained and programmed to focus on obesity as an area of intervention, what should you do if you decide not to do that anymore? Start by asking everyone, including overweight people, if they like their jobs and if they feel appreciated. I’ll bet you’ll like your job and feel more appreciated, too.
“Do you like your job? Are you valued at work?… Negative answers to these questions are associated with clinical morbidity and affect longevity even for those who could, if they wished, change their jobs.” – The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System, by Nortin M. Hadler, MD
“Wellbeing” is a term beginning to gain favor instead of the clinical connotations of the word “wellness.” Wellbeing gives us a chance to evolve to a better place. Take a holistic, non-clinical approach to making your entire culture healthful. That starts by seeing the beauty, uniqueness, talent, and the good in people, including overweight people.
It turns out that good science does support the concept of treating all people with courtesy and respect.
Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.