For my 20th birthday, I was gifted a Fitbit. My initial disappointment transformed into interest. How many steps did I take a day? How active was I really? As a busy college student earning a challenging science degree in Boston, I was convinced I was easily exceeding the daily recommendations for steps every day. However, I found my mind was exceedingly more active than my body. In my average day I achieved merely 6,000 of the recommended 10,000 steps. That white chocolate mocha I had in the morning before lab was probably affecting me more than I realized.
The advent of fitness monitoring technology was truly a wake-up call about the imbalance of food and activity. I made a vow to force gym trips into my schedule every few days. But with the gym a mile’s walk away, and the heat and rain of Boston threatening above the Charles, it was easy to convince myself to put off my cardio. Weeks went by without a glimpse of an elliptical. I told myself I would get healthy after graduation. Now with one degree off my chest and grad school looming on the horizon, I wonder when I will ever be able to fit exercise comfortably into my schedule – a disheartening thought, as someone who has always struggled with weight. But the future is ripe with possibilities. A recent trend indicates the shift to exercise at the workplace, with employer’s taking an active interest and involvement in their employees’ health and wellness.
Studies conducted to combat the obesity epidemic show that prevention of obesity is an easier route than developing treatments for the obese (Gortmaker, et.al 2011). This means we can expect a transition into a health conscience society and a work environment that promotes wellbeing. When my grandchildren become business moguls and high-powered CEOs, exercise classes and advanced desk and office technology will be commonplace. To combat obesity, companies will strongly encourage or mandate some level of exercise during the work day and make efforts to improve desk chairs and other furniture that contribute to common workplace ailments such as carpal tunnel, back injuries, and heart problems.
The global obesity epidemic
Changes in our society have led to a global obesity epidemic that all countries are facing. “The movement from individual to mass preparation lowered the time price of food consumption and produced more highly processed food with added sugar, fat, salt and flavor enhancers and marketed them with increasingly effective techniques” (Gortmaker et. al 2011). People began relying on pre-packaged food instead of individually preparing fresh ingredients. This shift for convenience’s sake led to a depleting focus on what was going into our bodies. This phenomenon, combined with the decline of activity due to advanced technology, has led to what Sir. David King, the former Chief Scientific Advisor of the United Kingdom, called passive obesity, where individuals have less choice over the state of their health and weight than in decades earlier (King 2011). Factors from “national wealth, government policy, cultural norms, the built environment, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms, biological bases for food preferences and biological mechanisms that regulate motivation for physical activity all influence growth of this epidemic” (Gortmaker et. al 2011). The result is a generation of individuals who are steadily gaining weight year after year due to a continuous tiny energy imbalance they cannot regulate.
The impact of obesity on society is immense. By 2030, obesity is projected to produce six to eight million diabetics, five to seven million cases of heart disease and stroke, and hundreds of thousands more cancer sufferers. The growth of all these preventable diseases will increase the government health expenditure by 48-66 billion dollars every year. As an individual’s weight increases, so does their risk for esophageal cancer, color cancer, gall bladder cancer, and post-menopausal breast cancer, as well as infertility and sleep apnea. In general, “excess bodyweight is associated with negative effects on longevity, disability-free life-years, quality of life and productivity” (Wang et.al 2011).
Action against obesity
Action that prevents obesity will be most effective in curbing the obesity epidemic. Obesity affects populations in every region of the world, with the higher income countries feeling the greatest effect. Besides individual behavior change and regulating energy intake and expenditure more closely, intervention needs to occur in other facets of society, including schools and the workplace (Gortmaker et.al 2011). Companies that offer choices between standing and sitting desks can help improve the health of their employees as well. The FitDesk sells bike desks and an under the desk elliptical that allows employees to exercise while working. The website pictures a man in a full suit and dress shoes biking while talking on the phone and scrolling through a laptop. Talk about multitasking.
Exercise incorporated or mandated at the workplace will give individuals who just can’t fit trips to the gym into their schedule an opportunity to exercise regularly. Japanese companies have begun implementing such measures by scheduling exercise programs during work hours. These companies have determined that “the key drivers of a company’s success was the workers themselves; their physical and mental health and thus their ability to be productive”. Japan has found that creating more opportunities for employees to get up from their desks and move around reduced the rate of health problems associated with sitting at desks, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes (Lister 2015).
Benefits of corporate cardio
There are benefits to facilitating the health of office workers besides cutting health costs and improving the quality of life of the corporate class. Companies will benefit from the reduced sick days taken by their workforce and minimize the concern they are expressing for their employees’ wellbeing. There are also emotional and psychological benefits of improving health at the office. Healthier employees have more energy, more self-confidence and subsequently inspire more confidence in their peers. An individual who feels like his employer is improving his quality of life will have more motivation to go into work and complete their tasks with passion. Healthy employees take on more leadership goals and are more motivated to better themselves by working up the company ladder.
The improved attitude of the office leads to more productivity and efficiency. Healthier workers will lead to healthier families and a healthier youth, combating obesity in family units. When companies invest in their worker’s success and wellbeing, they will profit from the work they accomplish. Additionally, employees who interact in more relaxed environments, such as fitness cardio classes, are more likely to form positive relationships. Employers wouldn’t have to organize team-building retreats if their employees met regularly in the company gym for health and wellness classes (Doyle 2016).
The growing epidemic of obesity and the impact this epidemic is having on our society and economy must be addressed. The energy imbalance resulting from high-calorie synthetic food production and reduced exercise will cause the average weights of individuals in every class and region of the world to skyrocket. Employers will have to take the initiative to incorporate health and wellness programs into their companies to combat the progression of obesity in their employees. In the future, corporations will mandate cardio classes and other forms of wellness during the workday to improve the quality of life of their employees. The benefits of these initiatives will be immense; both cutting health costs from preventable diseases like diabetes and improving the productivity of the work force.