Updated: Sep 27, 2020
The workplace has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization as a key setting for improving employee's health and wellbeing. Moreover, in high-income countries, 70–90% of reproductive-aged women participate in the workforce.
Given a large number of reproductive-aged working women, the workplace is a key setting for improving the lifestyle, health, and weight status of women during the preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods. Employer interest in obesity prevention, especially at female employees is increasing. They aim to lower medical and productivity-related costs as well as to improve employee wellbeing. More than $73 billion (USD) is estimated to be the annual cost for obesity-related employees and there is a higher medical expenditure as well as an absenteeism costs for women.
As a contact point for wellbeing, the workplace may enable and empower women to make the best possible health decisions with consequent benefits including better dietary, physical activity, and weight outcomes, with due regard for the cultivation of gender and health equity. Improvements to the work environment complement health behaviour changes by influencing the intersection between work, leisure, and family life, and yet, to this date, the primary focus of employers has been to improve individual lifestyle behaviours alone.
Workplaces also need to overcome implementation barriers such as activity scheduling and availability. Shift work increases the risk of miscarriage, heart disease, breast cancer, and postpartum depression in new mothers. Moreover, work scheduling factors contribute to obesity, reduced physical activity, and the development of the chronic disease. Therefore, a systems perspective, built on behavioural and environmental context, recognizes the intersectional relationship between the health of a business, its workforce, and the wider community.
Consequently, designing and implementing workplace health promotion interventions to meet the specific needs of working women of reproductive age will necessitate collaboration with a range of key stakeholders across all stages of intervention design. Co-design processes should ensure that interventions are relevant and adaptable to the individual workplace system, convenient to access, and capable of scale-up. An example might be to co-develop an online portal, designed to integrate with existing workplace platforms and services, whilst providing discrete access and support to preconception, pregnant and postpartum women and alleviating potential health inequities or workplace discrimination.
In conclusion, focusing on workplaces as an important pragmatic setting can mitigate the public health problem of poor lifestyles, overweight and obesity across the preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods.