Weight Gain at Work – What is the True Impact?

We are reminded on a daily basis that obesity in the UK is on the rise.  The figures are startling.   Over the past 30 years the UK’s obesity levels have more than trebled.  If we carry on as expected current predictions reveal that more than half of the population could be obese by 2050.  This is affecting 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children.

The weight gain of the nation and associated health risks are well publicised.  Being obese can lead to an increased chance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer to name a few.

Public Health England (PHE) reported that an obese person takes on average four extra sick days per year.  “For an organisation employing 1000 people, this could equate to more than £126,000 a year in lost productivity due to a range of issues including back problems and sleep apnoea”.

Obesity costs in the UK

…Are second only to smoking and costs the economy almost £47 billion per year!

The above are just a few of the reasons why PHE are one of the bodies that are advocating the formulation of a health and wellbeing culture at work amongst employees.  We spend a lot of time at our place of work. Consequently, initiatives that provide tools tackling stress and education to employees on how to keep healthy both mentally and physically will be encouraged.  The challenge of course is getting employers on board and supporting them in creating a working environment that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.

What Can We Do?

A few steps can be introduced to get the ball rolling in the right direction:

  • Organising team activities that involve low impact exercise or nights out.  Encouraging healthy eating rather than frequenting restaurants with mainly high calorie options and consumption of alcohol.
  • Review the office layout and see if adjustments can be made to encourage employees to get up and move around.  The aim being to reduce sedentary work.  This could be for example, providing activities in break rooms for staff such as table tennis or pool.  Facilitating rest breaks and any physical activity is important.
  • Promotion of healthy treats for a celebration or when someone returns from a holiday such as healthy nibbles e.g. nuts or fruit.
  • Where food is available in the workplace ensure there are healthy food options available, whether it is in a vending machine, in the staff cafeteria or an office treat.

Ultimately the employer can only do so much.  The onus is on the employee themselves who should look at their own lifestyle, health and wellbeing holistically. A workplace initiative can be a big help but not used in isolation to address the obesity epidemic.