Will CDC Employer Obesity Toolkit Promote Weight Bias?

No doubt, the obesity epidemic is costing employers billions!

No doubt, sedentary jobs, unhealthy cafeteria food, and high job-related stress are all important contributors to the obesity epidemic.

So what would make more sense than to try to address obesity in the workplace?

To meet this need, the CDC yesterday launched a new website LEAN Works, which provides employers with extensive step-by-step recommendations, resources, and other features to address obesity in their employees.

Some of the features include:

– An obesity cost-calculator

– Information and resources to help employers set up and assess interventions to combat obesity.

– Information on how employers can estimate return on investment

While I have no doubt that the intentions are admirable and that the information provided is based on the best available evidence, the focus (as you may already guess) is sadly only on improving eating and activity behaviours.

Thus, I did not see much talk about depression and weight gain, emotional eating, dealing with past abuse, addressing food addiction, managing pain, coping with obesogenic medications, improving body image and self-esteem, managing peer pressure, or seeking competent medical advise on obesity medications and surgery (if I have missed any of this, please feel free to point this out).

What I did see was the usual recommendation to improve cafeteria diet, exercise prescriptions and opportunities, as well as the ubiquitous “weight-loss” competitions. Regular readers will appreciate my previous concern with all of the above, especially the nonsensical “competitions”, about which I have blogged before.

Regular readers will also perhaps recall my previous concerns on how targeting obesity with well-meant but simplistic “eat less – move more” messages can potentially do more harm than good, by simply reinforcing the “obese people are lazy gluttons” stereotype. I have previously blogged about the potential of workplace wellness programs to promote bias and discrimination. 

Given the accumulating evidence that weight-bias and discrimination actually prevents people from adopting healthy lifestyles and may simply make the problem worse, I wonder what impact this program will have on people, who actually suffer from this condition?

Remember, overeating and undermoving are symptoms and not the root causes of obesity. Addressing the root causes of obesity requires truly identifying and understanding the actual determinants of overeating and undermoving: stressors, food insecurity, peer pressure, mental health, abuse, medications, self-esteem, long commutes, urban sprawl, absentee parents, and countless other factors that I can think of, which truly underly the causes of the obesity epidemic.

Edmonton, Alberta