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A Utah company and its employees are about to experience firsthand how employers can trim expenses without reducing their workforces, by helping workers, well, reduce.

"Employers incur an average of almost $1,500 a year in additional health care expenses for each overweight employee," said Jeff Hyman, CEO of Retrofit, a provider of company weight-loss programs. "Such high costs drain companies of money that could otherwise be invested in growth, new products and hiring."

On Wednesday in a surprise visit, Retrofit Inc., awarded Salt Lake City-based VISTA Staff Solutions $300,000 in services to help revitalize workers by helping them engage in more healthy habits.

The award was based on a contest essay by VISTA employee Rich Inderdonato, who wrote that company workers "spend a large portion of their day practicing the 'sedentary arts' of desk-bound communication. The lack of physical activity and the availability of convenient, high-calorie snack foods are actually occupational hazards that put employees at risk of gaining weight."

Working with Retrofit would inject the fun of a health promotional intervention into the workday and "that would be a warmly welcomed change," wrote Interdonato, who also is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Education at the University of Utah.

VISTA joins a list of Retrofit corporate clients, including Dolby, Oreck, Sagent Pharmaceuticals and Millennium Pharmacy Systems, that use wireless and remote technology to help employees lose weight.

Each client consults with a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and behavior coach via Skype video conferencing.

In the effort to get healthy, the stakes are high for companies and their workers. Obesity in the workplace costs employers $73.1 billion annually through medical expenditures, absenteeism and reduced productivity, according to a Duke University study.

Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems research at Duke, recommended that employers promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness from the CEO on down and provide economic and other incentives to employees who show clear signs of maintaining a healthy weight.

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Obesity and its costs

Problem • Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, leading to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, other health issues

Price tag • Medical expenditures, absenteeism and reduced productivity from overweight full-time workers costs $73.1 billion per year

Solution • Promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness and provide employee incentives

Source: Duke University study