Tackling employee obesity
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Tackling employee obesity

If the constant media attention to the growing problem of obesity within the UK didn’t do enough to drive the message home then recent figures released by the Office of National Statistics which shows that reported levels of obesity have risen in the last 20 years, should be enough to convince even the largest of sceptics that there is a problem.

Indeed, these figures would confirm that 24% , or one in four, of the adult population is now classed as obese. However, further research also shows that only 29% of employees report receiving any information or guidance on their health or healthy eating initiatives from their employers.

The employers business

For many people, the second statistic isn’t at all shocking. After all, they might consider that the weight of a person has little or nothing to do with their employer.

However, as it is also reported that the fall-out from obesity is having a catastrophic effect on UK economy as well as individual business owners, it’s little wonder that HR professionals are being asked to take a larger interest in the weight of employees.

According to recent figures, obese employers not only cost the NHS up to £5billion every year but are more likely to take absence from their employer compared with those with BMI’s in the healthy category. A further worrying statistic is that obese employees could soon have the right to claim themselves as disabled under regulations from the Equality Act 2010 and a recent case known as Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing where the court upheld Mr Walkers’ account that his obesity rendered him disabled and as such his employer had discriminated against him.

Tackling the problem

However, whilst it makes sense for employers to tackle the problem, there is a question of what they can do without infringing upon the personal business and rights of their staff members.

For example, whilst sitting an employee down for a one-to-one conversation discussing their weight might be seen as a step too far, the introduction of initiatives such as healthy eating in the workplace or schemes which encourage physical activity might not be enough to properly counter the growing problem.

Therefore, it is suggested that schemes such as those mentioned above shouldn’t be simply the role of a business owner or HR jobs in Surrey but should be rolled out on a much wider basis, with employers and businesses rewarded by the Government for doing so.

In addition, there is also a consideration that employers who introduce initiatives which encourage their employees to take their full lunch hour and use that to walk, enjoy the fresh air or participate in office organised activities such as gym membership and apply for local events such as half-marathons aren’t just encouraging fitness and healthy living among their employees but are also promoting relationships within the workplace which could encourage productivity and goodwill.

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