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Most disease is preventable — yet the focus is often on innovative therapies for chronic, or end-of-life illness, rather than the clinically proven lifestyle interventions which could head off these conditions.

The World Health Organisation estimates that non-communicable diseases — the vast majority of which are preventable chronic illnesses1, 2 such as cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, cancers and diabetes — account for 71% of deaths globally.3

In the United Kingdom, the figure is 89% and cardiovascular disease alone is responsible for 25% of deaths - a potentially worrying signal for what may lay ahead.4

Four steps to better health

Taking four lifestyle habits will dramatically reduce these risks:

  1.   1. Eating a healthy diet
  2.   2. Being more physically active
  3.   3. Avoiding harmful use of alcohol
  4.   4. Not smoking

Why aren't more of us taking all of these simple steps to protect our health?


Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director, Bupa Health Clinics says:

"While there may appear to be simple solutions to the epidemic of preventable disease, human behaviour is not simple — it's complex and multifactorial. If awareness and good intentions were enough to tackle issues such as obesity and sedentary lifestyles, we would have solved them years ago."

Complex drivers

“All sorts of psychological and emotional drivers influence our health and lifestyle choices. External factors such as education, social networks, where we live, where we work, and when we work also have a huge impact.”

Shift work, for example, is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,5 and studies show shift-workers are more likely to snack or make poor food choices.6

“This could also be a reflection of the choices available from workplace canteens and vending machines,” says Petra. “And this highlights the important role employers can play in reducing the burden of preventable disease.”

A shift in thinking

“There are dozens of links and connections, so positive change in one area will deliver benefits in others — and this snowball effect can build to a significant reduction in our risk of preventable disease,” Petra says.

“The key is to shift health systems away from treating illness, towards strategies which prevent problems and picking them up as quickly as possible when they arise. Central to this is empowering people to take more control of their health — and we can already see this happening.”

One in three adults in the UK now owns a smart watch or tracker13 and research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine confirms they do promote physical activity. 14 With US research showing that Gen Z and Millennials (born after 1982) are the most likely to report behavioural change, this trend is likely to continue.15

Benefits of prevention

The benefits of focusing on prevention is huge. In 2020, 20.4 million days were lost to MSK problems alone.16 But Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England says, "Most issues can be prevented and the workplace offers a unique opportunity to prevent the development of MSK conditions.”17

Petra says, "Having the right work station, standing desks, encouraging office workers to take regular breaks to stand and stretch, will all make a difference.” Recent research shows that reducing the time office staff spend at a desk improves job satisfaction and reduces fatigue, without any loss of productivity.18

Real world insights and assets

Bupa's Behavioural Insights team draws on this sort of real-world knowledge — as well as learnings from fields as diverse as psychology, sociology, behavioural economics and anthropology — to develop healthcare innovations which reflect the way people behave, not how we think they should behave.

And these insights inform the wealth of resources — such as manager guides and Healthy Me self help articles — employers can deploy to develop targeted strategies to support their people to be more in control of their health.

Supporting you

1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23946874/

2 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.574111/full

3 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases

4 https://www.who.int/nmh/countries/gbr_en.pdf (PDF, 0.01 MB)

5 https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/POST-PN-0586/POST-PN-0586.pdf (PDF, 0.4 MB)

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372856/

7 Bupa Internal Research 2021

8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7971720/

9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6456824/

10 https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/4/1/e000392

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385214/

12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6335323/

13 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1044033/uk-smartwatch-health-trackert-ownership/

14 https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/55/8/422

15 https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/consumer-health-trends.html

16 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket

17 https://www.bitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/bitc-wellbeing-toolkit-musculoskeletal-mar2017.pdf (PDF, 6.6 MB)

18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7558581/

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