tackling obesity in your workplace Tackling obesity in your workplace

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


Obesity in the workplace

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

Obesity is a tough subject for employers to approach

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.


Tackling obesity

For most employers, the best way to tackle obesity is to encourage a healthy diet and active lifestyle among employees. Below are some suggestions.

  • Introduce policies that encourage physical activity. For example, your travel expenses policy could encourage walking to work and in between sites where possible.12
  • Encourage staff to walk over and speak to their colleagues face to face rather than phoning or emailing.
  • Encourage cycling to work by providing showers for employees and secure parking spaces for bikes.12 Make the most of the government initiative that allows employers to loan cycles to employees as a tax free benefit.13
  • Support and encourage lunchtime walks and local leisure activities, such as swimming.12
  • Improve canteen meals in restaurants and vending machines in the workplace.12
  • Provide free fruit.
  • Provide gym facilities, or contribute towards gym membership. If your staff are already covered by Bupa, they have access to preferential rates at over 1,300 health and fitness clubs nationwide. Visit bupa.co.uk/memberoffers for more information.

Fat facts

  • Obesity reduces your life expectancy by around nine years on average.1
  • Obesity is responsible for 9,000 early deaths each year in England.1
  • Around one in five cases of heart disease are attributed to obesity.1

Childhood obesity

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.

  • Be more active as a family - go to the park or swimming at the weekend and walk or cycle to school.12 Encourage games that involve running around.12
  • Eat regular healthy meals together as a family in a calm environment.12
  • Encourage your children to eat fruit and vegetables. Try introducing new varieties regularly until you find something that they like.14
  • Cut down on sugary foods and drinks - substitute fizzy drinks with sugar-free squash, and sweets with fruit.14

Next steps

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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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