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In No Way Will We Actually Change The Things That We Are Doing

By Jesse Taylor
Thursday, September 24, 2009 16:46 EDT
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The Miami Herald talks about workplace efforts to fight obesity. The efforts to do so are intensive, but tend to fail to consider one basic solution: restructuring work schedules and work life so that people can organically choose healthier lifestyles.

Even with more companies offering wellness programs, something is going wrong. The Families and Work Institute report shows a significant decline in the number of employees who say their overall health is excellent. In a teleconference this week, Cali Yost, author of the Work/Life Fit blog asked: “How do we move wellness or rebrand it away from having an on-site gym?”

One boss thinks it takes bold thinking. When Alison Austin was closing in on 50, she decided to wage war on her personal weight issue by pushing her employees into healthy lifestyles.

Austin, CEO of Belafonte TACOLCY Center, a 40 year-old social service agency in Liberty City, says she started by holding a mandatory staff meeting and bringing in a nutritionist. She then banned doughnuts, soda and sugary items from the office, even replacing the coffee machine with herbal teas. “We became each other’s conscience,” she says of her 21 staff members.

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A huge part of the reason people gain weight and get otherwise unhealthy at work is because there’s tremendous social pressure on them to do so. I’ve worked at jobs where I had to answer for going to the bathroom, where the need for a professional wardrobe to do a desk job that doesn’t face the public ate in to the money I would have spent on, say, healthier food or running shoes that I could use for longer than ten minutes. Making health something you care about because your boss hectors you about it may make you lose weight, may even get you healthier, but a lot like The Biggest Loser, tends to only work while you’re in that environment and have that particular set of impulses guiding you.

And then, of course, there’s the “you can do everything you need at work and never leave” model:

Fortunately, there are some bosses who do back flips to create a culture where obesity is discouraged. “You can’t look at it as responsibility, it needs to be done because outcome is greater than not doing it,” says Dianna Sheppard, CEO Of Advantec, a national provider of human resources outsourcing.

Sheppard became inspired to make changes after seeing an abundance of fast food in her lunchroom. She cleared out the vending machines and stocked the lunchroom shelves with fruit and nuts. She brought in Weight Watchers and offered Zumba exercise classes in the office two nights a week, two low-cost programs. She says the candy jars are disappearing and smoothies are the new afternoon snack break.

Sheppard is convinced she’s doing her part to help the nation’s obesity epidemic: “It perpetuates itself, not only to workers but to their children and spouses.”

I’m torn on this, because it is a great thing to have employers taking proactive steps to give their employees healthier choices. But there’s something deeply sick with a system where these steps need to be taken in the first place. The natural course of American work life, without what amounts to a systematic battle plan to undermine it, is towards a sick, sedentary workforce whose major form of exercise is figuring out who’s nearest the supply cabinet and then asking them to bring you more staples. Part of it is the increasing shittiness of a convenience diet, but so much of it is the continual pressure to squeeze more productivity out of fewer people for the same pay. You can put all the smoothie machines you want in at work, but when I’m fighting brain freeze all day because I’m stress…do you eat smoothies? Slurp them? Whatever it is, when I’m consuming them all day because the proximity of healthy options is so close that I never have to stop working, I’m not healthier. I’m just consuming fewer calories.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
 
 
 
 
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