One serious health condition which is attached to more stigma and critique than support and sympathy is obesity. With over 61.4% of adults in the UK considered overweight, 75% of whom are obese, what is the responsibility of employers towards ensuring healthy employees? Today is World Obesity Day and we look at the topic a little closer.
There are significant workplace costs associated with obesity. For a large organisation employing around 1,000 people, lost productivity caused by obesity could cost more than £126,000 a year.
There is some evidence that obesity increases the risk of some work-related injuries, namely musculoskeletal disorders, stress and vibration induced injury. Traumatic workplace injuries appear to correlate with increased BMI. An American study has shown that the presence of obesity had a stronger effect on the occurrence of acute sprains and/or strains than it did on other types of injury.
Work-related musculoskeletal injuries typically associated with obesity are:
For obese workers, repetitive movements, such as kneeling, squatting and typing can be problematic, resulting in cumulative injuries such as carpel tunnel syndrome or osteoarthritis. As well as being the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, obesity can also affect the quality of life of employees and lead to psychological problems, such as depression and low self-esteem.
Employers may not have an obligation to ensure that employees enjoy a healthy lifestyle in their own time, but in light of these statistics, employers might want to consider what steps they can take, not just to deal with obesity-related issues, but preventing them in the first place.
The workplace can play an effective supporting role in the public health campaign for the prevention and treatment of obesity. Encouraging exercise and healthy eating through cycle-to-work schemes, discounted gym membership and the provision of free, fresh fruit in offices are some ways to address the issue. Others include:
Employers must become more aware of the risks associated with obesity. If the issue is not addressed, we can only predict more personal injury claims, with longer recoveries resulting in increased claim costs.
For more information, download Tracking the obesity timebomb