Many Workers Feel Overweight, But Don’t Use Company’s Wellness Perks

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OverweightMore than half of workers in a recent survey believe they have packed on too many pounds because they sit at their desks all day, engage in stress-induced eating and are too exhausted to exercise.

Yet among those who reported feeling overweight, more than half who have access to gyms or wellness programs through their employer say they don’t use them because they can’t squeeze exercise into the workday.

“It’s a real conundrum,” said Gretchen North, associate vice president, healthy living for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. “People know what they need to do but putting it into action is a different story.”

The survey by CareerBuilder, a Chicago-based human resources and recruitment firm, was conducted online by Harris Poll from Feb. 10 to March 17, and included 3,031 full-time workers in the U.S. who were age 18 and older. No self-employed or government workers were included.

Among respondents, 55 percent said they feel overweight and 44 percent said they gained weight in their present jobs. Another 17 percent said they lost weight.

Stress at work was a significant factor among those who said they were too heavy. Of people who reported low stress levels on the job, 41 percent felt overweight while 77 percent of workers who experienced extremely high stress said they were overweight.

More women, 49 percent, reported weight gain at their current jobs compared with 39 percent of men.

Still, a majority whose employers provide wellness benefits said they don’t use those benefits to combat their weight gain or stress issues.

Overall, 25 percent of survey participants said they had employer-sponsored benefits — including some who had access to on-site workout facilities — but 55 percent of those people don’t use them.

There are challenges for some workers even when gyms or wellness classes are available at the workplace or at nearby health clubs, North said. Some supervisors don’t allow employees enough of a lunch break to fit in a class or workout, shower and return to the office, she said.

And while some bosses allow it, some employees feel there’s a perception they are not committed enough to the job if they take an extended break to exercise, North said.

While lunchtime classes at two downtown Pittsburgh YMCA facilities are typically packed between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., peak usage also occurs in the early morning and early evening hours because many members don’t want to or can’t leave their jobs in the middle of the day, North said.

Downtown workers who come to the YMCA for yoga, indoor cycling, kickboxing, high interval training, swimming and other workouts “aren’t the folks we’re trying to engage in being active,” she acknowledged.

To reach a broader audience, the YMCA delivers programs to workplaces onsite, including a diabetes prevention program that the City of Pittsburgh offers to its employees at lunch time. “The city is covering the cost for employees and they therefore have built-in support to attend,” North said.

The class sets goals for participants to reduce their weight by 7 percent over a year and increase their physical activity to 150 minutes per week.

Other businesses have asked the YMCA to provide the diabetes prevention classes at their work sites “and we see great participation and attendance because we make it convenient to the employee,” she said.

Other programs the YMCA conducts at its regional branches and for employers on site include lunch-and-learn events, fitness classes and health workshops.

For people whose employers don’t offer wellness programs or who don’t live or work near a health club or can’t afford a membership, there are still options during the workday.

If you work in a suburban office park, get outside and walk the campus, North said. In bad weather, walk the steps inside or set an alert on your computer or phone to get up from your desk and move around or stretch.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” she said, crediting several researchers who have used that phrase to encourage healthy habits.

(Source: TCA)