With a large number of the working population in sedentary jobs with little or no physical activity, being overweight, if not obese, is a widespread problem. Poor nutrition, workplace stress, coupled with that of other life responsibilities, can be detrimental to physical and emotional well-being.
Recognizing this, many companies have established corporate wellness programs for their employees.
Not only do these contribute to employees’ well-being and improved productivity, but they also reduce employer-provided healthcare costs.
Corporate employee wellness programs typically focus on a few or all of these aspects:
- Stress management
- Basic fitness and nutrition guidelines
- Group activities for health and fitness
- Support to quit smoking
- Periodic screenings and health assessments
- Vaccination drives, for example, annual flu shots
Companies looking to take their employee wellness programs to the next level can, in fact, take their cues from interesting new research findings. Particularly those around obesity and the gut microbiome.
Speaking of obesity and gut microbiome...
Our intestines house an assortment of “good” and “bad” bacteria that create their own ecosystem. Gut bacterial health has a major impact on our health and well-being.
New research is uncovering a link between obesity and a disruption in the balance of the various bacterial populations in the gut.
In general, intestinal bacteria are symbiotic, and
- Aid digestion
- Increase energy production from the diet
- Regulate fatty acid tissue composition
- Induce low-grade inflammation, under certain adverse conditions.
All these processes influence the metabolic rate and thus weight management in an individual.
Other findings indicate that gut bacterial composition seems to vary in lean and obese body types, and this shift is also seen in the case of type-2 diabetes.
There might also be an association of certain gut microbial species with lean and obese conditions.
Bariatric surgery and gut bacteria composition
Bariatric surgery is a surgical intervention during extreme situations of weight gain. Studies show that in addition to the anatomical changes of the GI tract that it brings about, it alters the gut microbiota.
This is thought to be at least a partial contributor to the improvement seen in the patients’ metabolic status.
Obesity, gut microbiota, allergic sensitization, and skin conditions might all be linked
The intestinal flora also has a role to play in the development of the immune system and regulation of the immune responses. The interplay of gut bacteria and in particular, the increase or decrease of certain species, is associated with the development of allergic sensitization, eczema, or asthma.
There is also a possible association between obesity and atopic dermatitis (AD). Further studies are needed to establish a clear pathway, but early findings suggest that weight control in childhood may help reduce AD or even reverse its symptoms.
How can these findings shape corporate wellness initiatives?
Corporates can follow the latest research to:
- Add granularity to their weight management initiatives
- Offer gut microbial profiling as part of their health screening packages
- Extend the program to the families of employees, which may help them to predict and seek treatment for high-risk infants and children
- Add specialist skincare and better allergy care to their wellness repertoire
- Extend insurance coverage to include genetic tests and personalized nutrition based on gut microbes-related findings.