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Weight Control and the Workplace: A Valuable Opportunity for your Club

Employers are feeling the weight of the obesity epidemic, and are struggling to find ways to implement programs that work, says a report released by Northeast Business Group on Health.

Partnering With Businesses To Create A Wellness Program Could Be A New Opportunity For Your ClubThe report, “Weight Control and the Workplace,” says that there is a need for individually customized programs, and emphasizes the importance of including employees in the design and implementation such programs.

“Overweight employees cost employers more than $73 billion each year and put themselves at risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses,” said Laurel Pickering, President and CEO of NEBGH, an independent coalition of large national employers and other organizations working to improve healthcare value and reduce cost.  “Employers, health plans and healthcare providers need to come up with coordinated, compelling approaches that engage employees in managing their weight in order to stem skyrocketing healthcare costs and improve public health.”

And beginning next month, the health-care law will allow employers to increase incentives for participation in programs that require an employee to achieve an agreed-upon wellness goal, such as quitting smoking or losing a certain amount of weight. The incentive can be as much as thirty-percent of an employee’s insurance cost, and in some cases as much as fifty-percent. That is up from the twenty-percent that is currently allowed by law.

Yet, too many independent health clubs stop at offering a corporate discount membership and an insurance reimbursement form as their offerings instead of getting into the mix with employers, health plans, and healthcare providers; missing a chance to, not only build their business, but also fill a big void.

A majority of employers identified “employees’ poor health habits” as one of their top three challenges to maintaining affordable health coverage, and are trying strategies ranging from offering healthier cafeteria options and on-site exercise programs to comprehensive wellness programs. 

And it is with good reason that employers are concerned about the health and fitness of their employees. A 2010 study by Harvard University researchers, published in the journal Health Affairs, concluded that, “Medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.”

RELATED: AMA Labels Obesity a "Disease." What Does it Mean for Club Owners?

It seems like a no-brainer that employers and local health clubs would make perfect partners in this effort to get America's workforce fitter and healthier, yet there is still a gap between understanding and action.

“One of the challenges employers face in engaging people in weight control efforts is the stigma attached to being overweight or obese,” said Jeremy Nobel, a medical doctor and executive director of the Solutions Center, NEBGH’s platform for researching approaches to healthcare issues of critical importance to employers. “Official recognition of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association could increase physician engagement in identifying overweight and obese individuals for intervention, as well as help reduce the stigma and pave the way for increased participation in employer-sponsored efforts.”

RELATED: Life Fitness' Chris Clawson weighs in on the AMA's decision to call obesity a "disease."

Health clubs can step in and provide a safe haven for those that might feel uncomfortable, as they can offer trained professionals and programming. But, it may mean thinking beyond memberships, to creating programs and partnerships that help companies get their employees up and moving.

Here are some ways to get involved:

  • Offer company-specific small group training classes at a fee that makes sense to employers, which will help boost revenues and fill studios.
  • Offer on- and off-site nutrition counseling.
  • Partner with local health-care providers to provide a comprehensive wellness offering.
  • Hold complimentary seminars on topics such as “meal/snack planning,” or “Fitting fitness into your day.”
  • Work with the HR/Benefits department of local businesses to create incentive-based fitness and wellness programs. Remember, these businesses are partners, not just a customer.


John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications and provides marketing strategy and content services to companies in and out of the fitness industry.

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