The Rise in Global Obesity: Why this Matters to Employers

Earlier in the summer, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed that more than 10 percent of the world’s population is now obese.

For better or worse, it’s common to hear about the prevalence of obesity in the United States.  It is better because there are numerous public health campaigns and resources aimed at the problem.  It is worse because the problem only seems to be improving modestly.  Among adults in the U.S., the rise in obesity is starting to slow, but more than one third of adults are still considered obese1,3.

This matters, of course, because obesity often brings with it a host of other health problems.  For example, global trends in type 2 diabetes are mirroring the global trends in obesity4.  Additionally, even though more adults are obese, they seem to be living longer.  While this is good news, it means that they are spending more years living with obesity and have more time for damaging coexisting conditions to develop, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems and chronic kidney disease, 5.

Why does this matter to employers?  First of all, regardless of industry, most adults spend one third of their time at the workplace.  Therefore, the factors that have an impact on obesity, such as food and physical activity, need to address the entire scope of someone’s life, not just their home life.  The workplace dictates a large part of what employees eat and drink, as well as how much physical activity they may get.

Second, the increase in global obesity rates is completely relevant to employers who have international workplaces and employees.  A healthy food and physical activity culture comes from the top of the organization and can be recognized across international lines.  Even if one part of an organization has avoided the obesity “epidemic,” it’s likely that other offices, affiliates and/or vendors are impacted.

Third, obesity is not just the result of an individual’s choices.  Obesity is complicated and is a condition that is impacted by individual, social and environmental factors, as well as heredity and genetics.  Someone does not become obese because they make isolated choices in an isolated environment – everything and everyone around them plays a role.

Obesity affects the bottom line for a company.  Obesity and its coexisting conditions can decrease productivity, increase healthcare costs, and decrease morale.

Employers can create a culture of health at the workplace, and address the needs of employees by helping them make better choices to keep them healthy.

To learn more about how an on-site registered dietitian nutritionist may be beneficial for your organization, visit


About the Author:

Valerie Machinist, MS, RDN, LDN

Product Director, Optum On-Site Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Services

Optum provides health and well-being information and support as part of a patient’s health plan. It does not provide medical advice or other health services, and is not a substitute for a doctor’s care.



  1. Accessed June 22, 2017
  2. Accessed June 13, 2017
  3. Accessed June 20, 2017
  4. Accessed June 20, 2017
  5. Accessed June 22, 2017

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