Workplace Obesity: Achieving Bigger Profits with a Slimmed Down Workforce

This year

obesity is destined to overtake smoking as the world’s number one cause of preventable illness and premature death. This is bound to have a major impact on the UK economy, especially as Britain has the fattest labour force in Europe, with well over half its workers overweight and fully a quarter clinically obese. This impairs their operational efficiency, for no obese person is truly fit for work. This was revealed last year, when a CBI survey revealed that sickness absenteeism was costing the British economy £17 billion a year. Much of this stems for obesity- related disorders, for studies show that roly-poly employees have twelve times the levels of sickness absenteeism as their slimmer, fitter counterparts.

To tackle this problem, the Coalition government has set up an Absence Review Panel, chaired by David Frost, Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce. One of the anticipated recommendations of this committee, which is due to report at the end of this year, is that firms should employ private occupational consultants to help their staff lose weight and make a quick return to work when they suffer back pain or other disabling ailments. There’s little doubt that these measures will be effective, for earlier this year a Danish resource economist from the University of Copenhagen published a review of thirty published studies which showed that worksite interventions have a positive impact on employees’ health, leading to reduced sickness absenteeism and increased employee health and productivity. These improvements were reflected in the firm’s bottom line, showing increases in profitability, which ranged from two-and-a-half to five times the cost of the health promotion programmes. Many large firms have derived benefit from introducing these workplace health promotion programmes, notable examples being
Kellogg’s ‘Fit for Life’ programme and Nestlé UK’s ‘Employee Wellness’ initiative. But these campaigns are well beyond the scope and budget of most SMEs, whose needs can be met in a far simpler, cost effective fashion.

Some years ago a researcher at the University of Illinois, carried out a trial with ninety female volunteers who were ten per cent or more overweight. The subjects were given a ten week postal course designed to help them shed their love handles. The results showed that they lost just as much weight by this arms-length service as a control group who went for ten weeks to group therapy sessions provided by psychologists trained in weight control techniques. Nowadays the same on-going service can be offered far more cheaply by email. To help reduce the mounting toll of work-place obesity, the Self Help Alliance, a recently launched not-for profit organisation, will in future be offering employees a weekly ‘Slim Vitality’ tip. These simple hints are designed to build up into a complete programme of life time weight control, following the well established educational principles of incremental learning. This facility is completely free, and comes without any form of commercial sponsorship or advertising whatsoever. The tips will be posted at the end of every week, and can be accessed on They can be printed on an A4 sheet, for easy display on office notice boards, or sent directly to subscribers, whose email addresses will be treated with absolute privacy and not divulged to any third party. Get wise! Get fit! Get going!


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