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Layoffs, Chronic Stress, and Obesity

Posted Apr 05 2010 12:00am
The foundation of a successful employee wellness program is a well-publicized health fair and biometric screening . It's a great way to spark interest in the program and to get your employees thinking about better health.

But as important as it is to know your numbers, they are only part of the wellness picture. A new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that chronic stress can have a tremendous impact on health--leading to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more.

Researchers studied 2,782 employees at a company in New York that was experiencing layoffs. They found that increased stress led to sedentary lifestyles and weight gain:
Over and over, Fernandez's team heard the same story from the upstate workers: After spending the day sitting in stressful meetings or at their computers, they looked forward to going home and "vegging out" in front of the TV. Anecdotally, researchers also discovered that when pink slips were circulating, the snacks highest in fat and calories would disappear quickest from the vending machines.

Some workers said they did not take the time to eat well or exercise at lunch because they were fearful of repercussions from leaving their desks for too long.
This final point is crucial because it speaks to workplace culture. Wellness programs only work if your employees feel empowered enough to participate. If you're in management, set the example. Don't just tell your employees that it's OK to take a walk during the day--walk with them! If you chain yourself to your desk, chances are your staff will chain themselves to theirs.

If you've worked at a company during a round of layoffs, you know how stressful it can be. Aside from the obvious--stopping the layoffs!--what can employers do to ease the strain? Leave your comments and ideas below.
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