Fostering a supportive workplace for people with obesity
Ensuring benefit coverage for weight loss (anti-obesity) medications can go a long way in supporting people looking to manage their weight and creating a more inclusive work environment for your employees.
Weight loss medications are usually approved for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 (“obesity”), or a BMI over 27 (“overweight”) with certain weight-related conditions, according to Cleveland Clinic Canada. The intention is that these medications can help with weight management and improve health overall.
However, people with obesity who are looking to lose weight continue to face bias and stigma, including at work.1 Ensuring the work environment is inclusive for all weights is also important.
Unfortunately, this has been reflected in a lack of comprehensive benefits covering lifestyle programs, dietitians, psychotherapy, and medications to address weight concerns for individuals who may need these to support their health.2
Supporting well-being and helping employees manage their health is becoming one of the essential elements of sustained corporate growth.3 Business leaders are realizing that to improve corporate performance, they need to understand the health of their employees and support their workforce to live healthy lives.3
Including coverage for weight loss medications:
- Helps acknowledge the complexity of obesity as a chronic condition which can help in reducing stigma,
- Reinforces weight management as a way to improve health outcomes,
- And improves the health and quality of life for your employees.
So, what medications are approved in Canada to help people manage their weight? Fortunately, there are a number of medications that can be effective.
First, let’s start with understanding the interaction between weight and health, before we dive deeper into what else you, as an employer, can do to support the health of your employees.
What are the impacts of weight on health?
Obesity is a complex condition that affects a large proportion of Canadians and the growing trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Right now, about one in four Canadian adults is living with obesity and those numbers are expected to climb over the coming years.4
Obesity can worsen chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, and it can increase a person’s future risk of developing certain conditions such as: 5
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Metabolic syndrome
- Fatty liver disease
- Gallbladder diseases
- Certain types of cancers
- Kidney disease5
While categories of health risk (such as “obese” or “overweight”) have usually been defined based on BMI, which is based on a ratio of height to weight, BMI alone isn’t always a helpful measure in defining whether someone’s weight is impacting their health.6
Other measurements such as waist circumference, certain blood tests or the presence of ongoing symptoms, are often more helpful in understanding whether someone’s weight is having an impact on their health or putting them at risk for future health conditions.6
(Lower BMI can also have certain risks as well, including low bone density and impacts on immune function.7)
What influences weight?
There are many factors that can contribute to changes in weight that can influence our health. Things like our dietary patterns, our environment, our genetics, our activity levels, the medications we take, our sleep patterns, and the amount of stress in our lives can play a major role in influencing our body weight.8
Approaches to weight and weight management have continued to evolve. For many, it’s not as simple as following a specific diet and exercise routine. Social and environmental factors like the availability and affordability of high-quality food, income, occupation, day-to-day stressors, psychological well-being, and social resources can influence a person’s ability to manage their weight.9
How can employers support those living with obesity?
People with obesity might face social challenges or discrimination in the workplace – and it could be holding them back or affecting their performance.10 To create a more supportive environment for those living with obesity, employers should consider:
- A health benefits plan that offers coverage for weight loss interventions, dietitians, psychotherapist specializing in mindful eating, and weight-loss medications
- Ensuring office equipment and spaces are comfortable and accessible
- Offering employee training programs to dispel myths around weight, weight management and health
- Ensuring the use of people-first language, for example using the phrase “a person with obesity”
Ways to treat and manage obesity
As researchers and doctors come to better understand weight management and obesity, more treatments are becoming available. Having access to the right types of treatments are key for individuals whose weight is increasing future risk of health conditions, impacting their current health, or contributing to day-to-day symptoms.
Currently, obesity can be addressed with lifestyle changes, medications, weight-loss devices, and surgeries.9 Effective weight management programs will most often combine a number of these approaches with psychosocial supports to address the many underlying contributors that may be influencing weight – with the intention of improving chronic health conditions and future health risk, and reducing weight-related day-to-day symptoms.11
There are currently three medications approved by Health Canada for managing obesity: CONTRAVE®, Xenical®, and Saxenda® . Wegovy®, is also approved but is not yet available.12
These medications are usually prescribed as part of a broader weight management plan that addresses the other factors influencing weight. While these medications are intended to help with weight loss, some may also contribute to other important metabolic changes that may result in improved health even without significant weight changes.12
Ozempic® has been making headlines for its impact on weight loss, but the popular diabetes drug is not currently approved by Health Canada for weight loss.
Coverage for weight loss medications
As approaches to obesity and weight management continue to evolve, providing employees with a benefits plan that covers weight loss medications can be helpful to support your employees, and put you on the path to creating a more supportive and successful work environment.
Questions? Contact your group benefits representative at Manulife to add additional coverage to your benefits plan.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please follow the advice of your own medical practitioner.
Saxenda® is a registered trademark of Novo Nordisk A/S.
CONTRAVE® is a registered trademark of Nalpropion Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Xenical® is a trademark of Hoffmann-La Roche Inc.
Wegovy® is a registered trademark of Novo Nordisk A/S.
Ozempic® is a registered trademark of Novo Nordisk A/S.
1 https://bcmj.org/cohp/obesity-chronic-disease#:~:text=The%20WHO%20recognized%20obesity%20as,%2C%20and%20Alberta%20in%202021). , 2021
2 https://www.benefitscanada.com/benefits/health-benefits/how-plan-sponsors-insurers-are-considering-coverage-of-weight-loss-drugs-amid-rising-use-of-ozempic/ , 2023
3https://www.forbes.com/sites/colleenreilly/2020/06/09/wellbeing-positively-impacts-firm-performance/?sh=2afc111e7cc9 , 2020
4 https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/basics/adult-defining.html , 2022
5https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/health-risks , 2023
6 https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/why-you-shouldnt-rely-on-bmi-alone , 2023
7 https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/what-to-do-if-you-are-underweight#:~:text=If%20you%20are%20underweight%2C%20you,who%20are%20a%20healthy%20weight. , 2021
8 https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-bmi-accurate/ , 2022
9https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/treatment , 2023
10 https://www.cphrmb.ca/news/346620/Breaking-down-the-stigma-What-employers-need-to-know-about-obesity.html , 2020
11 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/choosing-a-safe-successful-weight-loss-program , 2017
12 https://obesitycanada.ca/managing-obesity/prescription-medications/ , 2023