Employees and Their Families: A Trickle-Down Effect

Healthy Family

A new study has added some more evidence to the generally accepted principle that parenting and home environment have a significant impact on the diet and exercise habits of children. Unfortunately, the study did not provide much variety in their test subjects. 190 children from ages 2-5 were studied, all of whom had overweight/obese mothers. It would have been a better study had the studies included overweight/obese fathers, and healthy-weighted fathers and mothers.

However, this does not mean that the study is useless for our discussion. In fact, it proves rather instructive. The mothers reported several aspects of home life, including:

  • General family “policy” about physical activity and food
  • How accessible healthy foods and junk foods are
  • Presence and availability of “equipment” for physical activity
  • Whether the mothers are a healthy eating/exercise example for their children

As far as the children went, the study measured what and how much they ate, and their physical activity levels. The conclusions pretty much fit what a rational mind will tell you about exercise and eating behaviors for children: if they can’t get their hands on junk food at home, they can’t eat it.

The study concluded that parents’ eating habits influence their children’s eating habits more than their respective exercise habits.

So how on earth is this relevant to a wellness program?

  • Motivation

When designing a wellness program, it is essential to take into account employees’ motivations for improving their health.

The vast majority of parents want to be good role models for their children. They want to help their children grow into well-adjusted adults on all accounts: physically, emotionally, mentally, (oftentimes) spiritually, financially…

The role of nutrition and fitness in each of these areas of life is profound. The physical part is obvious. Drawing the connection between health habits and the other parts of life can sometimes be less direct. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources out there to confirm/argue the emotional (pdf), mental (pdf), financial (link, link), and even spiritual (link) benefits of healthy eating and exercise habits.

By convincingly making the connection between their own health habits to those of their children, parent employees can begin to make changes to not only improve their own health, but their children’s health.

  • Cost Reduction for Employer

Healthy employees yields lower medical expenditures, fewer sick days taken, and a host of other material benefits. The same principle applies to a company’s employees having healthy dependents. Indeed, childhood obesity is responsible for an estimated $14 billion each year in direct medical expenses (pdf). Individual costs vary, but they do add up rather quickly.

Parents with sick children usually have at least one parent take time off to care for the sick child, which can affect productivity levels throughout the workplace. Having healthier children improves a parent’s productivity on multiple levels: they worry less about their children’s health, they have more time to focus on work projects, and they spend less time away from the office.

  • Benefits for Employees

A healthy family doesn’t fork over as much money on medical and insurance expenses. Obese children are more than three times as likely to be hospitalized as opposed to healthy children. Obese children also cost about three times as much as healthy children when it comes to medical expenses (link).

Employees with healthy habits, and who successfully impart those habits to their children, have a marked advantage in the long run. Imagine what a family can do with the savings that comes from having a healthier family. More family trips. More time together, perhaps doing something active or cooking meals as a family. More money to invest in nutrient-dense food. More financial flexibility. More flexibility with travel — regular medical visits can hamper plans quite effectively.

All things considered, it is critical that employees know the impact that their habits have on their children. (They probably know this very well already, at least to some level.) Show the profound impacts that their healthy habits can have on their children. Work with their motivation to be a good role model for their children. Mention the benefits of a healthy family to the company’s bottom line, but above all, demonstrate the benefits of having a healthy family from the perspective of the parent.

What does your company do to highlight the importance of children’s health to the overall success of a wellness program?

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