Obesity, Covid-19 and Business

There is no doubt at all that obesity, overweight, and associated chronic diseases continue to be major threats to the health of individuals and the greater population. In the last few weeks, we have also learned that those who are overweight are more at risk from Covid-19. Almost 73% of the first 2204 patients admitted to UK intensive care units with Covid-19 were overweight or obese.

More than 60% of the UK population is overweight or obese, a truly alarming statistic (and that includes 60% of NHS workers by the way). Yet during the lockdown instead of taking the opportunity to cook healthy food and take some exercise, the sales of cakes and biscuits have just skyrocketed. Furthermore, it is quite scandalous that so much junk and so little healthy food is sold in our hospitals – not good for workers, patient or visitors.

Obesity

What affects the population affects business. While employers have a duty to do what they reasonably can to protect the safety and wellbeing of their workers, obesity is a sensitive subject. Sometimes the business has to discuss it simply because workers are no longer able to work or able to work safely. Sometimes support to manage obesity is offered as part of a wellness programme. This approach is not always effective in helping overweight staff achieve wellness, in part because the focus is on addressing obesity only through weight management, rather than taking a more holistic approach.

Emerging research suggests that a more comprehensive approach to addressing obesity is needed to more effectively support individuals with obesity. Effective strategies include considering a combination of programmes, policies and developing a culture that reduces stigma and promotes a more inclusive and positive environment for all employees. In addition, companies are addressing health data challenges and re-evaluating their benefit design approach, so employees can better navigate the health care system and become more proactive consumers in managing their health and that of their families.

Encourage …

  • Because employees spend most of their time at work, take steps to promote an environment that encourages healthy behaviours and has policies and procedures that promote good health. This may include offering healthy food choices in company cafeterias, or simply encouraging employees to get up and walk around at regular intervals.
  • Communicate information about health and wellness initiatives in ways that encourage positive action. This can involve placing messaging about wellness in strategic areas, like at the foot of the stairs or on the doors of the lift, to encourage exercise. You can create games to challenge employees to a day without sugar or an activity scavenger hunt. Around these types of activities, companies can also help employees set achievable short-term goals and measures to help them monitor their progress.
  • While it’s up to the individual to make that commitment to become healthier, employer-sponsored wellness plans can – and should –encourage health care providers to get involved.

Avoid …

  • While excess weight can cause or exacerbate other health issues, some people might be “healthier” at higher weights. Just encouraging people to lose weight without considering their personal health risk profile could lead to other health issues. Understanding needs on an individual level is vital if a health programme is to be successful.
  • Being healthy includes physical, social, emotional and financial factors. Focussing on one at the expense of the others can do more harm than good.
  • Offer support to employees when they want to make healthy choices, but don’t force them into programmes. It won’t work and demoralising staff by enforcing health drives could impact productivity even more negatively than obesity.

Perhaps our motto should now be: eat healthy food, achieve and maintain your correct weight, protect the NHS, saving your life and theirs.

Keep safe and healthy.

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DISCLAIMER

Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.