Around a quarter of adults in England are classed as obese and the problem is growing.1 Obesity carries some serious health risks. It increases the risk of a whole range of diseases including diabetes, heart disease and several forms of cancer.1 It can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and stroke.2
This rise in obesity means that employers need to understand this issue now more than ever. Health and Safety regulations require employers to assess any risks to their staff and take reasonable steps to reduce them, including analysing their workstations.3,4,5 Regulations aside, there are steps employers can take to encourage all employees to be more active or eat more healthily at work.
Employers also need to take into account whether there are any jobs that obese people may find more difficult.6 You may need to take steps to prevent obese staff being bullied or discriminated against in the workplace, as this can sometimes lead to low self-esteem and depression.1
The rise in obesity levels can cause other problems for employers. Being obese can contribute to back problems - a major cause of absence from work.7,8 Obesity-related illnesses such as this can reduce the productivity of your workforce.1,9
Obesity is also linked to sleeping problems which can leave employees feeling tired, leading to lower productivity levels.10,11 This can even be dangerous if your employees are driving or operating heavy machinery.10,11
You may have heard of Ronald Agnew, a 25 stone postman, who was dismissed on health grounds. He won an appeal for unfair dismissal, was re-instated and awarded over £24,000 compensation.
For most employers, the best way to tackle obesity is to encourage a healthy diet and active lifestyle among employees. Below are some suggestions.
Obesity isn’t only a problem in adults; almost a fifth of children under 16 in the UK are obese.1 If your child is overweight it can help if the whole family makes some lifestyle changes. Below are some tips for helping your children keep a healthy weight.
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1 Obesity General Information. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, accessed 05.02.09
2 Ten top tips - weight loss tips based on scientific evidence. Cancer Research UK. www.weightconcern.asp-host.co.uk, accessed 05.02.09
3 Aching arms (or RSI) in small businesses. Health and safety executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 12.01.09
4 Musculoskeletal disorders - risk assessment. Health and safety executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 13.01.09
5 Working with VDUs. Health and safety executive, 2006. www.hse.gov.uk
6 Horizon scanning. Obesity as a workplace issue. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk
7 So why is exercise so good for you? BackCare. www.backcare.org.uk, accessed 09.02.09
8 Back pain and Work. BackCare. www.backcare.org.uk, accessed 09.02.09
9 Laaksonen M, Piha K, Sarlio-Lahteenkorva S. Relative weight and sickness absence. Obesity 2007; 15:465-472. www.nature.com
10 Sleeping Well. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, accessed 09.02.09
11 Obesity and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. www.sleepfoundation.org, accessed 09.02.09
12 Obesity - Guidance on the prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in adults and children. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. www.nice.org.uk, accessed 05.02.09
13 Cycle to Work Scheme implementation guidance. Department for Transport, www.dft.gov.uk, accessed 01.04.09
14 Top tips for top kids. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, accessed 09.02.09
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