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Can Corporate Well-being Programs Reduce Obesity in the UK?

27/08/2014 14:16 BST | Updated 25/10/2014 10:59 BST

Obesity is a real problem in the UK: 61.9% of all adults in England are classed as either overweight or obese (Department of Health 2014), and this figure is set to increase. A recent report on obesity, physical activity and diet, carried out by the Health and Social Care Information centre used a variety of sources from the national statistics to predict future trends in England.

The report outlined key findings and trends between 1993 and 2012.

• The proportion of adults with normal ranges of BMI (body mass index) decreased from 41% to 32.1% in males and 49.5% to 40.6% among women.

• The proportion of adults overweight, including obese, rose from 57.6% to 66.6% in males and 48.6% to 57.2% among women.

Between 2009 and 2012

• Although consumer spending on fruit and vegetable intake increased, consumers purchased less fruit and vegetables.

And in 2012

• 26% of women and 19% of men were classed as inactive

• Total expenditure on household food and non-alcoholic drinks was 8.9% higher than in 2009. There has been an upward trend in household expenditure on total fats, oils, butters, sugar, fruit juices, soda and beverages.

What's the Real Cause to This Obesity Epidemic?

The key is understanding how our lifestyles have evolved over the past 250 years. Back then when the industrial revolution started, people worked labor-intensive jobs such as farming, manufacturing and mining. Physical activity wasn't a problem it was a way of life as it became integrated into their everyday duties. Most workers were independent, they were either land or business owners.

In the 1980s, Britain entered the computer driven information age. Technological advances soon replaced many factory workers with cheaper and more efficient ways to manufacture. The 1990s saw the advent of the Internet. Society has giving up its independence for having a job and working for others to what seemed to be a stress free life option.

Lifestyle disease such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and Coronary heart disease (CHD) are all now the biggest killers. Most of us know someone either a friend or family member who has been affected by these diseases. Society now demands convenience leading us to become physically lazier affecting both physical and mental well-being. This is having a major knock on affect to our offspring: 27% of all children between 5-15 years are classed as overweight or obese, due to less physical activity and poor dietary habits.

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Courtesy of bigstock images

What is a Corporate Well-being Program all about?

There are more than 5 million business in the UK, 99% are small/medium size firms employing between 0-249 people. The larger corporations do tend to have some added employee benefits such as private medical insurance, gym membership or the occasional health day. But most have nothing in place to fight the obesity epidemic. The fact is that companies are becoming more educated on the benefits of these schemes both for employee and employer alike.

In a study commissioned by The City Of London Corporation, they interviewed 20 large city firms employing over 10,000 people on workplace health promotion programs. This study highlighted the importance of workplace health and well-being schemes. In London an estimated average firm size of 250 employees loses around ¼ million pounds annually due to sickness absences. According to the NHS, 30% of our population has high blood pressure (most not knowing they have it at all) and according to the TUC 4.9 million days are lost to employee absenteeism through work related back pain. There is a strong correlation between obesity and the increase risk of high blood pressure, lower back pain and diabetes. Most workers in London are mainly corporate, managerial or office based workers that spend as much time sitting down for long periods of time as they do sleeping. According to the Department for transport, society spend more time in a car travelling longer distances than it did 40 years ago and according to TV licensing adults in Britain now spend on average of four hours a day/28 hours a week watching TV.

Companies have a social responsibility for people that work for them - a corporate well-being program doesn't have to cost the earth but it could save the NHS from bankruptcy. The Telegraph reported that diseases caused by poor diets and sedentary lifestyles cost the NHS £6 billion pounds a year.

A recent survey by Healthmiles, a workplace engagement company part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group, surveyed 1,300 businesses and 10,000 employees. The study found a strong link between the wellness and vitality of an organization and the wellness of employees. This resulted in increased job moral, satisfaction, commitment and performance. In conclusion it is difficult to quantify the impact it can have on the bottom line, employers have to look at the bigger picture. Employees become more motivated and productive if they know their employer cares about their overall quality of life, which includes physical, emotional, financial and social health.

Do you think that companies should do more to help this country fight the obesity epidemic?

Do you think by running a controlled corporate well-being program could be the answer to the millions of workers by encouraging them to get active and healthy?

And if we are all aware that corporate well-being programs are the answer then why are there not more initiatives for starting one up?