Education Attainment Division

Obesity is a Business Issue

Michelle Vegliante, Jessie Azrilian on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 12:00:00 am

More than two-thirds of US adults are obese or overweight, with 14 states touting an obesity rate above 30 percent. Now, Consider how a population of unhealthy adults impacts businesses - increased health care premiums, decreased employee productivity, and increased absenteeism. If current trends continue, the obesity rate is predicted to rise above 50% in the next 15 years.  A majority overweight or obese future workforce is harmful to U.S. competitiveness and holds potentially debilitating long-term economic impacts.

Children often learn habits from their parents, and research indicates that unhealthy kids become unhealthy adults. Employer measures to promote a culture of health in the workplace and greater community through corporate wellness programs and childhood obesity prevention initiatives can help ensure both the current and future workforce is healthy and prepared to succeed in a competitive economy.

A new report by the American Heart Association indicates Americans overestimate their own health: while 74% of the 2,000 surveyed employees reported being in good or very good health, in reality 42% of these employees had been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure. While this is a troubling snapshot of employee health, the findings also reflect important opportunities for business leaders to improve health outcomes in the workplace. Notably, the study highlighted the influence senior leadership has in driving employees to engage in workplace health programs.

Workplace and Community Wellness:
A recent Quickpoll of ACCE’s membership asked chamber leadership to describe their community’s and member’s concern related to the impact of employee health and childhood obesity on both the current and future workforce. From the 90 chamber executives surveyed, 93% rated their members as being either very concerned or slightly concerned about the impact of employee health on their businesses and 85% of chambers said their communities are concerned about preventing childhood obesity.

The graph below reflects chamber members’ concern about employee/family wellness as it affects the current workforce:


Chambers of commerce support both workforce and community wellness in several capacities- from convening members and serving as a health and wellness resource for businesses- to scaling their impact through community-wide initiatives. The ACCE Quickpoll revealed that 65% of surveyed chambers promote corporate wellness programs now or plan to do so in the future. Examples of how chambers engage include: hosting events such as roundtables and conferences to promote corporate wellness plans to members; joining or forming community-wide partnerships to address wellness issues; leading regional initiatives through chamber wellness committees, councils or sub-committees; and including corporate wellness in chambers’ economic strategic plans.  Both the Meadowlands (NJ) and Charlotte (NC) Chambers are prime examples of how Chambers are promoting these initiatives:

  • The Meadowlands (NJ) Chamber of Commerce’s Health & Wellness Committee focuses on supports that directly impact their members, producing an Annual Health & Wellness Guide with vital information to help members navigate healthcare insurance, health programs, safety compliance and wellness.
  • The Charlotte (NC) Chamber of Commerce seeks to impact the broader community through their health initiatives. The Healthy Charlotte Council, which is comprised of the chamber’s members, has a goal to help Charlotte achieve a top 10 ranking in the American Fitness Index within the next five years. The Council has set very specific goals for Charlotte, including: identifying key indicators of the fitness index and tracking status, establishing connectivity with pertinent organizations to drive community collaboration, and increasing the national reputation of Charlotte as a healthcare hub.

Childhood Health and Obesity Prevention:
In addition to corporate wellness initiatives, 65% of surveyed chambers from the Quickpoll also currently promote childhood wellness programs or plan to do so in the future. Examples of specific activities chambers noted include: supporting childhood obesity prevention in a chamber’s legislative agenda; working with local governments to implement child care ordinances; and providing topical surveys, reports and communication briefs to members.

Chamber Involvement in Supporting Childhood Wellness:

One example of Chamber involvement in this arena is the The Traverse City (MI) Chamber of Commerce. The Traverse City Chamber  is leading the way in supporting childhood wellness and connecting economic success to early childhood health and education through the Traverse Bay Great Start Collaborative. Great Start is Michigan’s early childhood initiative and prioritizes “health” as one of its five main focus areas. Their farm to preschool initiative encourages early healthy eating habits by connecting local farms to home-based and center-based child care facilities to incorporate locally-grown fruits and vegetables into preschool meals and create age-and-culturally appropriate curriculum for students and parents to learn both deliver fruits and vegetables as well as teach children where their food comes from.


Interested in learning more? Visit the new “Workforce Wellness” webpage to learn how chambers are helping create healthier communities through initiatives to support childhood obesity prevention, corporate wellness, and access to healthcare.


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