More and more, the American workplace is in need of wellness intervention strategies. A study in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) (2004; 46 [12], 1196– 1203) found that obesity is becoming more common among workers and is leading to cardiovascular problems and various work limitations.

Using clinical measurements from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999–2000, researchers found that 29% of workers were classified as obese, a marked increase over the 20% obesity rate reported in the 1988–1994 (NHANES III) survey.

Carrying extra pounds adversely affected workers’ productivity. In the National Health Interview Survey 2002, about 7% of obese employees said they had some type of work limitation related to health or other problems, compared with 3% of normal-weight workers.

Cardiovascular disease is an increased risk for obese personnel. Among those surveyed, 35% of obese workers had high blood pressure, compared with 9% of normal-weight workers. The obese workers were also more likely to have high cholesterol levels (36% versus 22%) and diabetes (12% versus 3%).

This study explains a trend that Yvan Micklin, president of Aquila Fitness Consulting Systems Ltd. in Miami Beach, Florida, spotted in corporate fitness years ago: disease prevention. “Diseases are hitting companies’ bottom lines,” Micklin says. “Many companies are directly affected by employees who have lower back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes and other weight-related health concerns.”

Micklin says that because more people are dealing with health issues, it’s even more important that fitness professionals interested in working with the corporate world have the proper education and credentials. “So many people are on some sort of medication, and you have to know how to work with their special needs. Fitness professionals must structure programs that will help a wide range of people.”

Linda Freeman, IDEA group fitness committee member and owner of Guru Fitness LLC in Green Bay, Wisconsin, works as a fitness consultant and instructor for Schneider International in Green Bay. She likes teaching in the corporate environment because the employees are offered the classes as an added benefit and are appreciative of the instruction. “I also like teaching in the middle of the day because it fits into my schedule nicely.”

The JOEM study researchers concluded what fitness professionals already know: “Workplace weight and disease management programs could help reduce morbidity and increase productivity.” Companies interested in implementing programs like these need reliable health and fitness information. Freeman offers the following advice for fitness professionals looking to break into the corporate environment:

  • Remember that business always comes first. Don’t take it personally if a class is not well attended. Meetings sometimes trump class, and retail companies have many busy times, such as the pre-Christmas rush.
  • Understand that you are working with business professionals. They will expect a resumé, references, and justification for any expense you suggest.
  • Always be professional; use surveys to assess needs, and select skillful communication styles to advertise class schedules and changes.
  • Be cognizant of time restraints. Class participants are usually on their lunch hour or have been working all day and want to get home quickly after class.
  • Many companies that do not have a fitness center will hold classes and sessions in a conference room or cafeteria. Be prepared to arrive early to set up the room. Also keep in mind that the space may not be appropriate for high- impact classes (the flooring may be concrete, for example).