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Obesity affects the bottom line

The Experts: Health
Obesity affects the bottom line

By Dr. Margaret Gaglione, Inside Business - Hampton Roads, May 14, 2007

Take a look at your business’s group picture from five years ago and today. If they’re like most in the Tidewater region, your company is reflecting the national obesity statistics – and it’s hurting your bottom line.

The number of overweight and obese people in the United States is staggering. Statistics indicate that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, with one-third being obese. The rate of change for these statistics is even more alarming. Ten years ago only one in five were obese.

Obesity is now a business problem. Multiple studies have shown that obese employees have higher rates of absenteeism and more short-term disability claims than normal weight employees. Obese employees also are more likely to lose days from work for doctor appointments and they tire more easily.

I guarantee you, none of your employees want to be obese or overweight. Most have tried hard to lose weight, but it is easier said then done. They need help. Leaders who empathize and address this issue sooner than later, will enjoy bigger profits and healthier employees.

To their credit, many large companies are beginning to realize the extent of the obesity problem and its direct impact on profits. They are now adding employee wellness centers to their facilities to increase the access and availability of physical activity.

Unfortunately, while physical activity is critical and necessary, it alone is an inadequate way to solve the obesity crisis. For example, a typical fast food meal is 1,300-1,500 calories. To burn the equivalent amount in exercise, a 150-pound man would need to walk 14 miles.

What is needed is a paradigm shift. The emphasis has to be on what individuals eat in addition to the amount of exercise they do. Most individuals, including physicians, have an appalling lack of knowledge regarding nutrition and the pivotal role it plays in preventing many illnesses.

Obesity is far more than a worry or a cosmetic concern. It’s a disease – specifically, much like a cancer marked by unregulated growth of fat cells, and therefore we need to be very aggressive in treating it.

When someone learns they have cancer, they don’t blink an eye at going through multiple weeks of therapy. They are there every week for their appointments. Obesity should be approached the same way. It’s a tremendous health risk and it makes people vulnerable to many life-threatening diseases. Long-term chronic illnesses caused by obesity include diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, depression, some cancers and apnea.

A recent study in a leading obesity journal demonstrated that 85 percent of morbidly obese individuals have sleep apnea caused by their obesity. These individuals can wake up as many as 100 times per night because their oxygen levels drop and their high carbon monoxide level triggers them to wake up and breathe.

As one can imagine, an employee waking up in excess of 100 times per night is not going to be very productive the next day. And tired employees are more likely to use food as a mechanism to stay awake, which only contributes to their obesity.

Any exercise or weight program has to be as dedicated to physical activity as it is to nutrition education. Individuals need to learn how to eat well both at home and in restaurants. They also need extensive support, education and behavioral supervision throughout the weight loss, transition and maintenance phases of the program.

Employers that have an interest in improving the health of their employees and the financial picture of their companies must consider instituting programs that will provide the support and education necessary to really put a dent in this growing epidemic.

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This is the first step in improving your health and lifestyle.

At Tidewater Bariatrics, my staff and I are committed to helping you achieve your weight loss goals.

I am a board certified Bariatrician and Internal Medicine physician. I will tailor a program specific to your needs, time constraints and abilities.

Our program is modeled after successful academic university medical center programs, and is dedicated to decreasing your health risk, improving nutrition, providing health education, and increasing your overall wellness. You can expect to lose weight, improve your cardio-vascular health, and reduce your risk of developing long-term obesity complications.

Even if you already have the complications of obesity, weight loss can decrease or eliminate their effects.

Dr. Margaret Gaglione

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