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Dr. C. Everett Koop Urges Business Community to Combat Obesity; Issues New Guide on Workplace Fitness

Cincinnati, OH; May 30, 1996 -- Pursuing his goal to combat the epidemic of obesity in the U.S., Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General, today called on the American business community to play an active role in promoting physical activity in the workplace.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Dr. Koop said that just as American industry created workplace programs to get workers to stop smoking, businesses can be instrumental in encouraging employees to become more physically active and to achieve a healthier weight. Specifically, Dr. Koop called on employers to create workplace incentives for physical activity, such as installing showers, offering health promotion programs, and providing information about healthy weight and physical activity on a regular basis.

"As companies pursue ways to reduce corporate health care expenditures, business leaders should not ignore the very real costs associated with obesity and inactivity among the work force," said Dr. Koop.

Citing estimates calculated by the Institute of Medicine, Dr. Koop said that employers are already paying $4 billion annually in lost productivity costs. At the same time, 52.6 million work days a year are estimated to be lost in illnesses and disabilities directly related to obesity and inactivity.

Dr. Koop also pointed to federal statistics finding that over half (54 percent) of all Americans engage in irregular or no leisure time activity and concluded that the work environment is contributing to this trend. "As communications technology and automation are radically changing the way companies do business, so too are they contributing to less physical activity on the job," he said. "Not only are many employees spending more time working, but they are sitting for hours at a desk moving nothing but their eyes and their fingers."

To address this problem, Dr. Koop urged employers to educate workers about ways to include more physical activity into their time on the job with the goal of accumulating 30 extra minutes of activity per day. This activity, which need not be athletic in the usual sense, can involve several short periods of 10 minutes each in which the person moves the large muscles in his or her arms and legs. Brisk walking to and from work or around the office, using stairs whenever possible, and standing instead of sitting all contribute to moderate-intensity activity that can be incorporated into the work day.

Towards this end, Shape Up America! -- Dr. Koop’s new anti-obesity campaign -- has teamed up with the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to produce a new guide on workplace fitness. Called Fitting Fitness In, Even When You’re Pressed For Time , this free pamphlet provides practical advice on increasing activity in the workplace, building muscle endurance, getting physical activity on the road, and healthful eating on the run.

According to ACSM project coordinator, Larry Kenney, Ph.D., FACSM, "People know that physical activity can add quality years to their lives. However, many adults simply cannot find the time to exercise, especially during the workweek. In response, Fitting Fitness In, Even When You’re Pressed For Time provides the motivation and guidance to develop a more active lifestyle -- even while on the job."

Based on the new guide, some of the ways to be more physically active at work include:

In safe areas, parking your car at the back, or on the lowest level, of the garage or parking lot to increase your walk or climb;

Allowing time to walk to meetings and when possible, walking to lunch spots at a distance from the office;

Taking advantage of the speaker phone and getting up and moving around during calls;

Walking around the airport while waiting for a flight instead of heading for the nearest newspaper stand or restaurant;

Walking instead of riding on moving airport walkways.

In light of these simple yet effective suggestions, Steven N. Blair, P.E.D., FACSM, ACSM president elect explained that "A common misperception is that physical activity must be structured and vigorous to provide health benefits. The truth is even everyday and recreational activities such as walking or gardening can enhance a person’s physical and mental well-being."

With the goal of getting this new information into workers’ hands, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association will be distributing a single copy of the booklet free to consumers and bulk quantities to employers, physicians, nurses, physician assistants, dietitians, and community organizations. Explains Pat Fuchs, R.D., L.D., medical/health programs at NCBA: Fitting Fitness In, Even When You’re Pressed For Time offers practical suggestions and fun ideas to help people on the go add some physical activity into their lives. Our industry is dedicated to providing consumers with healthful eating tips like the booklet’s real-life advice based on the Food Guide Pyramid."

The new publication was also favorably reviewed by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). AAFP plans to encourage primary care physicians nationwide to use the new workplace fitness guide in waiting rooms, at health fairs, and clinics. According to Gerald C. Keller, M.D., vice president of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation board of trustees: "Physical activity is an important factor in disease prevention. Physicians, health organizations, government, associations and others need to work together to communicate this message to the general public."