obesity workplace wellness

Study Shows How Obesity Might be ‘Contagious,’ Highlighting Workplace Wellness Benefits

The New York Times asks an interesting question: “Is obesity contagious?”

We know that a well-run workplace wellness program can help employees manage obesity — and help businesses save on related potential health costs.

As the State of Obesity report headlines: “Workplace wellness programs boost employee health and productivity and reduce absenteeism.”

The report states: “Research demonstrates that multicomponent workplace wellness programs can be an important strategy in preventing and reducing obesity. A number of reviews have found these initiatives can pay for themselves by increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism. They also have been shown to reduce weight, body fat and BMI, and increase physical activity. Many state health departments have developed resources to assist employers in creating effective wellness programs, such as the Work Well Texas program discussed in a subsequent section.”

And one key to a well-run workplace wellness program is the positive aspect of community — being with other employees (or individuals) who seek similar goals. But does that work?

A new JAMA study indicates it does.

Is Obesity Contagious?

The study is titled “Association of Exposure to Communities With Higher Ratios of Obesity with Increased Body Mass Index and Risk of Overweight and Obesity Among Parents and Children.”

It asks: ” Does exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity increase the body mass index (BMI) and risk of overweight/obesity of individual residents?”

Its findings: “Using data from military service members assigned to installations around the country, this study found that exposure to counties with higher rates of obesity (relative to counties with lower obesity rates) was associated with higher mean BMI and greater odds of obesity in parents and higher BMI z scores and greater odds of overweight/obesity in children. Associations were stronger among families who had resided longer in a given location and with off-installation residence; no evidence supported self-selection or shared built environment as explanations for these results.”

This means that “exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity is associated with higher BMI and greater risk of overweight and/or obesity in parents and children, and this may suggest the presence of social contagion.”

The study’s conclusion: “Exposure to counties with higher rates of obesity was associated with higher BMI and higher odds of overweight and/or obesity in parents and children. There was no evidence to support self-selection or shared built environments as possible explanations, which suggests the presence of social contagion in obesity.”