Tackling the Challenge of Obesity November 5th, 2010, by Ken Buckley

It’s no secret that obesity in Australia is on the rise. In just 15 years the number of obese Australians has increased by 2.8 million with severe effects for families, communities and the workplace.

Excess body weight and the lack of physical exercise that often accompanies it has been shown to significantly increase the risk of serious chronic illnesses such as Type II diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In the workplace, the 2001 National Health Survey showed that obesity was associated with over 4 million days lost, with overweight employees more likely to become ill and remain ill for longer than those within a healthy weight range.

This doesn’t mean that a thin employee is always going to be healthier than an overweight employee. Take the example of the employee who smokes to keep their weight down. However, given the significant preventable health risks and productivity losses, it’s worthwhile assessing obesity within your organisation and incorporating strategies to combat it as part of a broader company health and wellness program.

Obesity and the Workplace

Obesity usually results from a combination of genetics and environment. Stress, inadequate exercise, poor nutrition and lack of sleep all play significant roles in weight management which is why a healthy workplace can make such a big difference. Australian workers spend most of their waking hours in the workplace, so a supportive environment that facilitates a healthy lifestyle is crucial if we are to successfully overcome the growth in obesity.

Addressing Obesity as Part of a Corporate Health Program

As with most corporate health initiatives, there are cross-over benefits from any basic healthy behaviour. For instance a physical activity campaign will benefit not only an overweight employee but also a stressed and/or unfit employee within a healthy weight range. This is why a health-centred approach is always better than a weight-centred approach. In the same way that it’s more effective to try to increase healthy foods such as vegetables rather than cutting out certain foods, the focus should be on achieving good health rather than a certain size or weight.

Education and support in the workplace are equally important. Employees need to know what they should be doing and need support in developing new habits. Education may come in the form of an on-site seminar, cooking demonstration, or have your corporate health provider organise a nutritionist to give one-on-one 20 minute consultations to help employees improve their diets. In terms of support, physical activity challenges can be a great way to bring staff together to encourage each others’ fitness goals.

The physical environment of the worksite should also support both physical activity and healthy eating.

Corporate gyms are a great time saver for busy employees trying to squeeze in exercise, and bicycle storage and showers can make a big difference to those wishing to exercise by walking, jogging or cycling to work. Canteen food and vending machines should be as healthy as possible, and microwaves and fridges can make life easier for staff wishing to bring in their own healthy meals.

Remember to focus on healthy living, healthy eating and physical exercise. Encourage employees to develop healthy lifestyles and they will be well on the road to a healthier weight in the long term.

For more information on Workplace Obesity, contact Healthworks on 1300 90 10 90 (International: IDD 61-2-9954-1888 ) and be sure to quote: “post781” for eligibility of Healthworks latest online offers and Corporate Health initiatives.

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