Fostering a supportive workplace for people with obesity can improve productivity and sustain corporate growth
Covering weight loss (anti-obesity) medications can be an important part of an employer’s benefits offering while supporting employees looking to manage their weight and creating a more inclusive workplace, says Manulife. Unfortunately, people with obesity who want to lose weight continue to face bias and stigma, including at work. It is vital for employers to ensure that the workplace is inclusive for people of all weights.
This stigma is reflected in the lack of comprehensive benefit covering lifestyle programs, dietitians, psychotherapy, and medications to address weight concerns for individuals who may need these to support their health, says Manulife. However, with increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), business leaders realize that understanding and supporting everyone within their workforce to live healthy lives is a key element to improve performance and sustain growth.
Support employees to manage weight
Coverage of weight loss medications is one benefit that can support employees to get to a healthy weight. Weight loss medications are usually approved for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 (obesity), or a BMI over 27 (overweight) with certain weight-related conditions, according to Cleveland Clinic Canada data.
Coverage for weight loss medications can:
- help acknowledge the complexity of obesity as a chronic condition which can help in reducing stigma,
- reinforce weight management as a way to improve health outcomes, and
- improve the health and quality of life for employees.
Fortunately, there are three medications approved by Health Canada for managing obesity: CONTRAVE, Xenical, and Saxenda. Wegovy is also approved but is not yet available.
These medications are usually prescribed as part of a broader weight management plan that addresses the other factors influencing weight. While these medications are intended to help with weight loss, some may also contribute to other important metabolic changes that may result in improved health even without significant weight changes.
Ozempic has been making headlines for its impact on weight loss, but the popular diabetes drug is not currently approved by Health Canada for weight loss.
Manulife suggests that employers who want to create a more supportive environment for those living with obesity should consider:
- A health benefits plan that offers coverage for weight loss interventions, dietitians, psychotherapist specializing in mindful eating, and weight-loss medications
- Ensuring office equipment and spaces are comfortable and accessible
- Offering employee training programs to dispel myths around weight, weight management and health
- Ensuring the use of people-first language, for example using the phrase ‘a person with obesity’
Ways to treat and manage obesity
As researchers and doctors come to better understand weight management and obesity, more treatments are becoming available. Having access to the right types of treatments is key for individuals whose weight is increasing future risk of health conditions, impacting their current health, or contributing to day-to-day symptoms.
Currently, obesity can be addressed with lifestyle changes, medications, weight-loss devices, and surgeries. Effective weight management programs will most often combine a number of these approaches with psychosocial supports to address the many underlying contributors that may be influencing weight – with the intention of improving chronic health.
“Simple dialogue between employers and colleagues, tailoring support to the needs of a particular individual and offering a variety of support systems are all important initial steps employers can take to breaking down existing stigmas,” says Dr. Sean Wharton, internal medicine specialist and medical director of the Wharton Medical Clinic. “Employers can create positive spaces through forums, of evidence-based information, for people to discuss obesity and the challenges they face in addressing this condition. Furthermore, offering life coaches, nutrition coaches and specially trained health care professionals can help an employee with obesity determine a daily treatment program that can be realistically maintained for the long term.
“By playing a supportive role in eliminating the stigma surrounding obesity, offering comprehensive support and facilitating greater access to evidence-based treatments for obesity, employers can begin to play a positive role in improving health outcomes for Canadian employees who are living with obesity.”