Nearly one-third (32%) of the nation’s healthcare employees are obese, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The only professions with higher obesity rates are bureaucrats and protective service workers, such as law enforcement and security guards.
At first glance, the results are surprising, considering the promotion of a healthy lifestyle is an integral part of a healthcare worker’s job. However, the 32% figure includes both healthcare support staff, which includes medical transcriptionists, dental assistants, and pharmacy aides, and health-diagnosing professionals, which includes physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. When those group are separated, the numbers change. The obesity rate for the healthcare support staff group is nearly 35%, while the obesity rate for the healthcare practitioners group is 22%.
The study’s authors believe the discrepancies are due to income. Members of the healthcare support staff group typically earn less than healthcare practitioners, which may restrict their access to healthy food options and fitness center memberships. Healthcare employers are starting to do their part to improve the health of their employees by developing employee wellness programs. For example, the Bon Secours Richmond Health System in Virginia offers an incentive program to employees that are obese or at risk of developing diabetes. These high-risk employees can receive $900 for participating in screening programs and healthcare coaching. Peter Bernard, CEO of Bon Secours, shared the details of the program at the 2014 American College of Healthcare Executives Congress in Chicago in March.