Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks during a safety clinic hosted by the NFL. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

LAS VEGAS–We can debate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act all we want. But the truth is, the massive health care law really isn’t going to make a difference on our nation’s health if we don’t first address chronic health conditions.

That was the message from Dr. Mehmet Oz during a keynote session Wednesday at the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference.

Obesity–and its accompanying diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, he said, is the biggest health issue addressing the nation–and people in the workplace have a big responsibility to help combat it.

“If we don’t deal with obesity, there is no health care plan that will work,” he told a standing-room only audience of nearly 16,000 people. “If we can get away from this political battle and deal with these issues and what really matters…only after that will it make a difference.”

Research continually points to obesity becoming a growing epidemic, especially in the United States. According to the latest research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, more than two-thirds of Americans are now either obese or overweight.

But the good news is we are capable of handling it with a little effort, Oz said.

Simple behaviors and habits are the key to battling chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, he said. And it begins with going to the doctor, getting checkups and getting simple blood tests that detect these diseases.

“We need to talk about [battling these] issues earlier. We need to take this chronic issue and make a change. Once people know this stuff, people translate into action pretty quickly.”

Among his tips for preventing illness, and getting healthier, is regular exercise (“All you need to do is walk around,” he said. “There is a big difference of walking steps at work, two flights of stairs and doing nothing”); getting at least 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep each night; eat healthily and smartly; curtail addictions (smoking; drinking too much and not watching what you eat); and control stress.

“[Being and looking healthy] is not about how you look like in the mirror,” Oz said. “It builds your ability to thrive mentally.”

He said there is an inherit connection between physical and mental health.

“Weight is a barometer of how people cope with stress,” Oz said. People need to deal with stress to also deal with their physical health, he said.

Oz stressed the importance of HR professionals in promoting health and wellness to employees.

“You have the opportunity to help,” he said. “It’s worth the fight.”