PhotoSmall and medium-sized businesses are committing more of their resources to try to reduce obesity in the workplace, alarmed at projected increases in healthcare costs associated with the condition.

A survey more than 500 employers conducted by the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH), with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Safety Council, find these firms are actively seeking new tools to help control obesity among their workforce.

Respondents said they are now investing in obesity prevention and those that are not are interested in what they might do, how to do it, and how to measure success.

"Given the amount of time an employee is at their place of work, there is an opportunity to positively influence the choices they make about their health," said Andrew Webber, NBCH president and CEO.

While obesity has an acknowledged impact on the economy, one obesity expert believes economics lies at the root of the problem. Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU and author of book "Why Calories Count," notes that obesity rates started to go up in the early 1980s.

Societal changes

"I think there were a lot of changes in society that took place at precisely that time," Nestle said in a web interview with Yahoo!'s Daily Ticker. "Mostly they were changes that made the food industry enormously competitive. Changes in farm policy, changes in Wall Street, that forced food companies to try to sell food in an extremely competitive environment."

To grow their profits, publicly traded food companies and restaurant chains had to attract more customers, offering more "value" for the money.

"They had to look for ways to get people to buy more food and they were really good at it," Nestle said. "I blame Wall Street for insisting that corporations have to grow their profits every 90 days."

In the Depression era people went hungry because there wasn't an abundance of food and it was expensive. Food is cheaper now but healthier food, like fresh fruit and vegetables, is more expensive than less-healthy food.

"It's wonderful that food is cheap because it means even poor people can afford to buy it," Nestle said. "On the other hand, having cheap food is one of the reasons people eat more of it and it encourages the food company to serve food in larger portions."

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