Istanbul, Turkey.
Julian Finney Getty Images
By Valentina Zarya
August 7, 2015

Can giving people time off incentivize them to exercise? That’s what the governor of the Edirne province in Turkey is betting on.

Our Cure is Sport is a new health initiative that will be implemented in the western Turkish province of Edirne. Government workers who participate in the program will be allowed to clock in an hour later than their usual start time, according to Turkish news site Haber 7. Workers will be helped to find a sport that suits them and have access to a dietician.

The initiative is one way in which Turkey is fighting obesity, which has become a growing problem in Europe over the last few years. With 61.9% of its adult population overweight and 27.8% obese, Turkey ranks third in the region by prevalence of obesity, and has the seventh largest percentage of people who are overweight, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The European country with the highest percentage of obese and overweight population is the Czech Republic.

This is a fairly recent trend: reports show that obesity has increased by 44% from 2002 to 2014, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TUIK). The reasons for this rapid weight gain? Many of them will sound familiar to those heard in and about the U.S.: fewer opportunities to be physically active and the increased consumption of processed foods, according to Middle Eastern news website Al-Monitor. Additionally, however, extra weight has long been sought after, with proverbs such as: “A man without a belly is like a house without balcony.”

Still, obesity rates in America, nearly 35%, are higher than anywhere in Europe, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while Americans may finally be eating less, 80% of us are not getting enough exercise, according to the CDC. And while some employers encourage working out during the workday, at most companies, that idea is not widespread enough to be considered culturally acceptable.

So far, 70 people have asked to take part, though it isn’t clear whether people will be monitored to make sure they really are using the hour to work out. Either way, it’s something that employers in the US should look into, as it might help them cost costs in the long run. Obese people cost employers more than double normal weight employees in covered medical claims, sick days, short-term disability, and workers compensation: $8,067 versus $3,830 per year, according to the Center for Advancing Health (CFAH).

Time for treadmill desks?

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