Department of Health and Human Services

Increase employee productivity by reducing sedentary behavior

The annual cost attributable to obesity in the US among full-time employees is estimated to be $73.1 billion. The US obesity epidemic is largely driven by an increase sedentary behavior, particularly in the workplace. Sedentary behavior is a risk factor for both obesity and for cardiovascular disease, independent of traditional recreational exercise activities. Engaging in continuous low-level activity at work can increase caloric expenditure by as much as 1000 kcal/day. Furthermore, affordable devices are now available that allow individuals to engage in continuous, low-level activity throughout the work day during times they traditionally would be sedentary. Standing desks, under-desk elliptical machines and steppers are readily available at a reasonable cost. Yet physical activity promotion efforts in government agencies are still focused on increasing physical activity outside of work, and most workers are unaware of the health risks associated with prolonged sitting. Promoting the use of in-office devices designed to allow low-level activity while sitting and to promote standing would have long-ranging health benefits for government employees which would improve employee productivity and decrease sick days. The government could became a model for implementation of this approach, providing inspiration for school systems and the broader work force, potentially having a profound impact on the obesity epidemic. I suggest that the government educate its employees about the adverse health effects of sedentary behavior and promote the use of in-office devices to reduce sedentary behavior by removing existing barriers to their use. President Obama and the Surgeon General could inspire workers by using these devices themselves. Eliminating lengthy approval processes needed to promote the use of exercise equipment in government offices and decreasing financial obstacles by negotiating with manufacturers for product discounts would also be greatly beneficial.

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Idea No. 3833