A New Focus for Corporate Wellness – Childhood Obesity

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to go slightly off-topic this month, shift gears from HR technology, and focus on a topic about which I’m personally passionate: Childhood Obesity. It is a focus of the non-profit organization I founded in my hometown (www.faststartonline.org) and is a primary focus of the Winter Park Health Foundation, an organization with whom I’m involved and serve as a Community Member on one of their work groups. (www.wphf.org). Fortunately for me, this particular topic brings together both my personal and professional passions as I’ll describe below. The stats on the number of kids facing obesity and the related chronic conditions are staggering. This may be the first generation not to outlive their parents. This is definitely the first generation to experience obesity-related chronic conditions at a much earlier age. Our childhood obesity crisis has caught many people’s attention, prompting movements like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, the CDC’s Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project and many farm-to-school programs, to name a few. With those tremendous organizations in mind, I would like to call to action a new beneficiary of healthier youth: Employers. I believe that employers have the tools, desire, and methodology to begin focusing on childhood obesity through corporate wellness initiatives and, ultimately, have a positive impact on this troubling development. Many employers don’t consider kids to be their priority, or even their concern. Wellness programs, to date, have focused solely on the employee — their weight loss, their healthy eating habits, their biometrics. It is quite natural to see why that has been an employer’s focus as it is always easier to focus on the object that is directly in front of you. However, there are plenty of reasons why employers should care about childhood obesity and the impacts it has on their business. The most obvious is that affects employers’ health care budgets, particularly now that “children” can stay on their parents’ employer-provided health care plan up until age 26. According to the National Business Group on Health, children and adolescents are responsible for 14.7% of an employer’s health care costs, and obese children have much higher health care utilization. Medical expenditures aren’t the only costs. Obese children also miss more days of school and have greater emotional challenges. These situations take parents away from work or distract them while they’re there. Because parents care about their children’s well-being but don’t often know what to do, helping them do something about it also positively affects parents’ health behavior and their sense of loyalty to their company. Once these children grow up, they of course will join our workforce. Employers everywhere should be concerned that their future talent is going to walk in the door with a slew of health concerns and conditions. I would like to thank a colleague of mine, Jen Benz, CEO of Benz Communications, for bringing this concept of integrating childhood obesity and wellness to light for me. They first posted a blog regarding this topic and it has been gnawing at me ever since. I strongly encourage you to consider expanding your corporate wellness program to focus on your employee’s children. It is the right thing to do – socially, economically, and corporately. To help get your creative juices flowing, below is a quick list of ideas and tools that are at an employer’s disposal to help address this situation.

  • Review their benefits plans’ services and eligibility to make sure kids can access available counseling and programs
  • Expand their wellness programs’ eligibility and incentive structure to also include kids
  • Design specific interventions and challenges to focus on kids’ interests and rewards
  • Create more family-based events and educational experiences to collaborate with parents in their efforts
  • Join local and state conversations about food lunch programs, food access, neighborhood walkability, etc.
  • Give to organizations that increase access to food, improve school lunches or in other ways support this mission.

We thank you in advance for helping address this alarming US trend. Now, back to your regularly scheduled HR Technology Blog….

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