The Waistline Front Line

The Waistline Front Line

Employers are being called upon to provide support in the fight against Indiana’s expanding waistline, which is threatening the state’s economic stability and well-being. Since the problem is so wide among Hoosiers, experts are saying a concerted cross-sector effort is required to bring change to the policies and places that have an influence on healthy behaviors.

In other words, it’s going to take the combined hands of many sectors to lift this problem off our plates.

Not Just a Personal Problem

An individual’s weight might seem like a personal problem that employers shouldn’t get involved with, but it’s an issue that does have an impact companies and communities. It’s a problem that we’re all paying for, as roughly 34 percent of us are obese in this state.

In 2017, the estimated economic cost of obesity for Indiana was $8.5 billion – most of which is borne by individuals and the private sector, according to data published by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation early this spring. Costs in that total come from multiple factors including lost potential earnings, increased healthcare costs for employers and individuals, and more. About $3.9 billion of that amount was generated by labor market costs, increased absenteeism, and lower productivity. $2.9 billion was from excess healthcare costs and $1.7 billion was from lost economic output.

Data from the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana shows that obesity drives up health care costs for all employees, as obese employees generate more than $51,000 in medical claims (per 100 full-time employees) each year, compared with $7,500 for healthy weight workers.

Frighteningly, obesity also makes us less safe as a nation. Being overweight was one of the most common reasons for young people to be deemed ineligible for military service. About 25 percent of adults are too heavy.

Employers Can Make the Biggest Impact

Solving this problem is going to require the combined forces of healthcare systems, K-12 schools, community organizations, state legislators, and others, all of which have important roles to play. Employers have a unique position in this fight because they’re the ones who can actually make the strongest impact.

People spend about a third of their lives and consume more than half their daily calories in the workplace. This gives employers a multitude of opportunities to promote and encourage healthy choices by doing things like providing nutritional counseling, increasing physical activity, informing your employees, establishing a healthy corporate culture, and so much more. There are also many supportive options available from your health insurance providers or physician networks.

Employer-Sponsored Weight Programs Gain Momentum

Several organizations throughout the state have begun working together to help employees lose pounds. Indianapolis-based On Target Health recently announced a new partnership with the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI), a subsidiary of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that aims to create a healthier Indiana through employer-sponsored weight management programs that target obesity. Reducing state obesity levels to below 20 percent of the state’s population is one of the goals of the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 plan.

“Our mission is to work collaboratively and impact the economic vitality of the state by working with employers to help guide workplaces and communities through the development of comprehensive health and wellness strategies,” says Jennifer Pferrer, executive director of WCI.

Todd Foushee, co-founder and CEO of On Target Health, said, “We are providing services to many respected employers in Indiana and assisting their employees and dependents who have struggled with losing and sustaining weight loss. Aligning with the WCI helps us to reach additional employers who are equally as passionate about wellness and prevention.”

In addition to that new partnership, companies have lots of other options for collaboration with pro-health organizations that can help their employees lose weight.

  • Almost every major hospital group in Indiana offers occupational health services that can provide support structures for companies hoping to lose weight.
  • The YMCA offers an entire package of corporate wellness options for companies. They can conduct workplace wellness assessments, face-to-face coaching, on-site classes and fitness facility management, incentive management, and more.
  • Indianapolis-based Jump IN for Healthy Kids provides wellness guides and resources for employers on its website that can help business leaders develop healthy practices that best fit their company’s structure. Indiana’s Dept. of Health also has handy tips and strategies.
  • Local fitness centers frequently offer discounted company rates and wellness packages for businesses. Enrolling in programs like these could also potentially help companies earn discounts from their health insurance provider.
  • And many others.

There’s a Lot to Gain by Losing

Employers definitely have a major stake in fighting this issue and a unique position from which to attack it from, so it makes sense that experts would be putting out the call for them to enlist in this endeavor. Changing habits in the workplace can go a long way toward changing habits at home and elsewhere, which can enable more Hoosiers to get healthy. In turn, smaller waistlines will lead to bigger bottom lines for companies and a stronger economy overall.




In 2017, the estimated economic cost of obesity for Indiana was $8.5 billion – most of which is borne by individuals and the private sector.

Source: Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation

Over the past 20 years, obesity rates have risen steadily in Indiana, from 20 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2017.

Source: Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation