July 28, 2013

Obesity in the workplace becomes a bigger deal

Obesity's reclassification as a disease means employers had better give less weight to a person's girth in hiring or firing.

By DIANE STAFFORD McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

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Employees who are obese are now more likely to be recognized as disabled with rights under the 2008 amendments to the ADA.

The Associated Press

Thus, workers passed over for hiring or promotion because of obesity may be able to show they were denied jobs because the employer regarded them as impaired.

Ken Sigman, owner of Health and Benefit Systems, a consulting company in Leawood, Kan., worries that the AMA reclassification of obesity as a disease needs more input from nutritionists and other groups before it causes changes in workplace case law.

"Obesity is more of a risk factor than a disease," Sigman contended. "And it can be temporary. People can lose weight. So I think the AMA may have gone a bit too far."

Without a doubt, Sigman acknowledged, studies show that obesity correlates to higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other metabolic syndromes. And those conditions lead to higher medical and pharmacy costs, more absenteeism, and higher workers' compensation and short-term disability costs.

But he warned against employers making assumptions about who is obese. Body fat analysis can show surprising results, he said, sometimes proving, for example, that hulking football players have extremely low body fat or apparently "normal-sized" women have high fat indexes.

Obesity in adults is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher.)

WORRIES ABOUT TREATMENT

The AMA's designation also spurred some criticism that "medicalizing" obesity could encourage doctors to prescribe more costly drugs and do even costlier weight-loss surgeries rather than encourage lifestyle changes.

But the AMA, joined by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American College of Cardiology and others, said obesity was a "multimetabolic and hormonal disease state."

"The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes," the AMA resolution said.

Jack Bastable, a wellness consultant with CBIZ in Leawood, said employers' current focus on the Affordable Care Act is overshadowing discussion of obesity rights in the workplace.

"But there's no question among us in the industry that the light is shining brighter and brighter on obesity," Bastable said. "It will get more attention. We lead the world in obesity, and that's a complex issue. Everything from school lunches to the snack industry are trying to engineer changes, but it's hard to change, and we really haven't fully addressed about how to deal with obese people in the workplace."shutterstock.com

Employees who are obese are now more likely to be recognized as disabled with rights under the 2008 amendments to the ADA. Under federal disability law, even if employees aren't morbidly obese and aren't limited in life functions, they still may qualify as protected by law if the employer "regards" them as impaired.

 

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