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Workplace obesity: are employers making it worse?

More than a third of workers say their employers have directly contributed to higher levels of obesity, according to new research.

A survey of 1,197 workers by Willis PMI Group found that 34% said that their employers had a part to play in their expanding waistlines.

Six in ten (59%) of respondents said that longer working hours prevented them from taking exercise. Almost half (48%) blamed a lack of exercise facilities and initiatives; vending machines and unhealthy snacks were cited by 44%; while unhealthy canteen food was a factor for 38% of those polled.

"The Government estimates obesity contributes to the loss of 16 million certified incapacity days each year and this research suggests employers may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution," said Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group.
"The findings call for businesses to review their existing workplace cultures and practices and, where appropriate, proactively adopt health and wellbeing initiatives."

The problem is not likely to go away, with younger workers more critical of their employers than older colleagues - 42% of 18 to 34-year-olds blamed their bosses for contributing to higher levels of obesity, compared with 29% of 35 to 64-year-olds.

The study revealed that only 15% of employers currently offer cut-price gym memberships, 13% offer on-site gym facilities, 10% offer fitness classes and just 6% offer dedicated weight-loss schemes.

Blake said: 

"Support and education for employees to combat obesity can be relatively inexpensive to implement, but by encouraging staff to lead healthier lifestyles businesses can help cut obesity-related illnesses and the associated business risks."

NICE, the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, recommends that employers of all sizes develop a plan that encourages and supports employees to be more physically active. It suggests that business owners encourage employees to walk or cycle to and from work and that they also take every opportunity to be active during the working day.

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