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The Overweight Elephant in the Room

The Overweight Elephant in the Room

While some employers have been able to work in whole or in part during the lockdown period, many people are only returning to work now. Many of my clients are finding that far from wanting to get back to work, some of their employees are very reluctant indeed. Various reasons are given, one of which is the fear of contracting Covid-19.

Our attitude to risk reduction is curious. In March supplies of hand gel were in such demand that some less than conscientious individuals started stealing it from hospitals. When the link between vitamin D and Covid was publicised in about April, supplies of vitamin D ran dry overnight. But the link between being overweight, diabetes and Covid which is now well established – well, that response has been very mixed. While there have been more people walking, running and cycling than ever before during lockdown, in the same period sales of cakes, biscuits and chocolates have been astronomical. Yet weight management is the only factor that we can influence ourselves.

Last week I spoke to two clients and the weight issue came up. One chap was furloughed during lockdown. He was overweight and unhealthy at the start, but he took the opportunity to change and in eight weeks he has stopped smoking, lost weight, started cycling (he does 20 miles a day now) and also volunteered for the NHS. He is fitter, happier and healthier. It’s a real success story. The other, a similarly overweight and unhealthy man was so scared he hasn’t set foot outside the door. He did nothing at all except eat, putting himself at a far greater risk if there is a second spike. It sounds a miserable existence.

Until there is a reliable working vaccine, I think we must assume that there is likely to be a second spike, so we have to adjust the way we do things so we can be as normal as possible. Being risk aware doesn’t means hiding at home but going back to work and applying sensible and appropriate risk avoidance processes, as we do for all the other risks in our lives.

Prevention is always better than cure. As more than 60% of UK adults either overweight or obese, let’s deal with the issue.

Body positivity began as challenge to the fashion industry’s obsession with dangerous levels of skinniness and encouraged women of a reasonable size and shape to feel good about themselves. So far so good.

But the fat acceptance movement went a step further, aiming to normalise obesity. The use of terms such as “straight size” and “fat pride”, and with some influential figures even likening the valid concerns of health officials to hate crimes, this is a nonsensical, even irresponsible, approach to take.

Being overweight is a serious health risk. The evidence is overwhelming. We need to stop sticking our heads on the politically correct sand (and making Mr Kipling even richer) and protect our nation’s health by eating a bit less and a lot better and coincidentally reducing the huge drain on the NHS while saving lives at the same time.

Employers can and should help, not least because having a healthy workforce is good for the health of business. It’s not acceptable to criticise or bully those who are overweight. But having a conversation about health is not bullying, so long as it is sensitively done.

You can help your employees make better informed choices and move into sustainable, healthy routines in many ways.

  • Set a good example yourself. An unhealthy and overweight SMT is not going to inspire the workforce is it?
  • Provide opportunities for staff to eat a healthy diet.
  • Actively and continuously promote healthy choices in staff canteens, events catering and even what’s on offer by visiting vendors.
  • Make healthy choices obvious, easily accessible and low cost.
  • Ensure healthy food looks colourful and attractive. We eat with our eyes first.
  • Limit access to food during the working day. For example, have a “no eating at the workstation” rule.
  • Consider how and when people get exercise during their working day, for example by encouraging an active life policy and providing secure parking locations for bikes as well as shower and change facilities.
  • Fit standing desks; encourage more standing meetings or have walking meetings in the open air.
  • Limit access to lifts to necessary use.
  • Develop links with local leisure and sports facilities and offering subsidised membership rates.
  • For those staff who actively want to lose weight, you could offer a multi-component weight management programme (using an external agency) to those particularly overweight focusing on activity and eating behaviours.

Nobody wants to be fat. It’s life limiting with extremely grave long-term health risks and (whatever the fat celebrants say) it’s really not that enjoyable. Let’s help ourselves and our teams to take small steps every day to adopt and stick to better habits. If they fall off the cake wagon from time to time, well it happens. Just don’t give up. Climb back on and keep going.

Over time, those small steps will make a huge difference. Most importantly when we have another serious epidemic (and it will come, sooner or later) we will all be better able to fight it off.

Keep safe and healthy.

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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.

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