Obesity is a Public Health Crisis

Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. By 2016, 39% of men and women over 18 years were overweight, and 11% of men and 15% of women were obese. Diseases like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, spinal problems, and even cancer are associated with this condition.

According to WHO data, overweight rates have practically tripled since 1975. Worldwide, more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight and more than half a million are obese. In Latin America, we may describe the situation as alarming: obesity affects 96 million adults, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released this year.

What’s the driving cause of this the increase in global obesity? There are a myriad of issues contributing to the onset of this epidemic. First, we must change our eating habits. Often people choose food based on convenience rather than nutrition. As a result, food deserts have become a commonality. To drive lasting nutritional change, it is imperative that we make healthy choices easily accessible.

Our inactive lifestyle compounds this issue. In today’s business world, employees are expected to prioritize business and job demands over their health and well-being. As a result, the global workforce has become sedentary. Consider this: how much of your day do you spend standing? The British Heart Foundation, in partnership with the Get Britain Standing group, conducted a survey involving more than 2,000 people and concluded that 45% of women and 37% of men stand less than 30 minutes a day while working. To address these findings, Gavin Bradley, the Director of the Get Britain Standing group, suggests that we find ways to get active while we work, like using standing desks or conducting walking meetings.

But is that enough? And who is responsible for this change? Considering that a person spends an average of 10 hours at work, it is time for companies to take accountability for their role in propagating the obesity epidemic and create a workplace culture that promotes healthy living, regular exercise, and work-life balance.

Combat Workplace Obesity with Proactive Initiatives

Investing in employee health must go beyond traditional healthcare benefits. Companies must take a proactive approach to our health that is focused on preventive care, rather than fighting chronic health conditions or disease that develops. With this in mind, organizations are expanding their range of quality of life and health benefits, including services of professionals such as nutritionists for food re-education, and seeking alternatives, in addition to traditional workplace group exercise, to stimulate physical activity and create a culture in which their employees feel stimulated and encouraged to leave behind their sedentary lifestyles.

The heart of a company consists of the people who work for it, and by investing in them, we consequently optimize results and goals. In the corporate world, physical exercise helps concentration levels, makes the memory more accurate and also improves our reflexes. Decreasing the use of healthcare plans and reducing absenteeism results in a healthier, more engaged, and more productive workplace.

Prioritizing Health Over Profit

As leaders, we need to prioritize health over profit. We must provide an environment that is flexible, and accommodating of making exercise a rule, not an exception. How can we do this? By making incremental environmental changes and enabling employees to take advantage of them. By combining these small efforts, plus the introduction of physical activity into our lives, we can move further and further away from sedentarism and, in turn, obesity.

As entrepreneurs, we have to set an example and take responsibility for tackling sedentarism, and consequently obesity, within our companies. Finding the balance right between personal and professional life is the role of all leaders. What about you? What have you done to reduce obesity and sedentarism within your company?

Marco Crespo is CEO of Gympass . He believes the company is one of the few to be born with a purpose: to change people’s lives and give them real options for a healthier life. He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from UNICAMP and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Marco has more than 10 years of executive experience, with passages at companies such as BCG, P & G and Instituto Ayrton Senna.
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