Opinion

Why do UK employees expect businesses to combat obesity?

5 min read

25 March 2015

Former deputy editor

British businesses are under pressure from employees, with a new report revealing that 31 per cent of staff expect their employers to help them to lose weight – but is that expectation too great?

Image via Shutterstock.

PMI Health Group is behind the research, which found the demand spiked in Scotland and London to 41 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.

It follows an EU obesity ruling in late December 2014, when it was declared that if obesity causes physical, mental or psychological problems that hinder a person’s ability to participate in work, it could give rise to a disability.

In fact, the PMI study found 34 per cent of employees went as far as to claim “companies have a moral responsibility to help them lead a fit and healthy lifestyle”.

Mike Blake, director, PMI Health Group, said: “Obesity is a rapidly growing problem in the UK – one that is estimated to cost the economy £47bn a year.

“Consequently, employers are coming under pressure to share the responsibility for tackling the problem by helping staff to lead healthier lifestyles. But, aside from the obvious benefit to employees, a proactive approach is also good for the long-term health of the business, helping to tackle sickness absence before it becomes an issue.”

Additionally, findings revealed 35 per cent of staff think companies should run schemes to incentivise staff to lose weight. Men were particularly keen on the adoption at 38 per cent, compared to 31 per cent of women – again, London and Scotland had high interest at 45 per cent and 37 per cent respectively.

“The cost of diabetes to the NHS, for example, is expected to rise from £9.8bn to £16.9bn over the next 25 years. Initiatives such as cycle to work schemes, fitness classes, nutritional advice and weight-loss programmes can be relatively cheap to implement but provide clear economic benefit by reducing the risk of serious conditions developing,” Blake concluded.

Read more on wellbeing: 

Image via Shutterstock.

Outside of the corporate world, there is certainly a high demand for health and wellbeing in the UK – Essex-based fitness supplement firm Bulk Powders doubled year-on-year revenue in 2014 to hit £9.6m. Furthermore, the business conducted independent research into the UK sports supplement and nutrition market, which is set to hit a value of £471m in three years.

But should business owners truly be expected to harvest teams of squat-loving sales staff or bicep-curling builders throughout their companies?

As a fitness enthusiast myself, I say no.

Sure, it would be wonderful to have protein shakes handed out at 11am each day, with a helping of grilled chicken at lunch and low saturated fat snacks in the afternoon, but expecting companies to adopt a healthy outlook doesn’t seem right – or realistic.

Customary approaches come as some businesses will negotiate a reduced fee for staff with the local gym, but that’s generally as far as it goes.

Speaking to Real Business, Adam Rossiter, co-founder of Bulk Powders, said: “A healthy workforce benefits both employees and the employer, so there’s certainly merit in businesses encouraging workers to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“However this doesn’t make it an employer’s responsibility. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to look after their own health, and anything that employers can do to support this should be strongly encouraged but viewed as an additional benefit, rather than an entitlement.”

From experience, the average Joe will turn their nose up at the thought of fruit and veg in the kitchen over cakes and biscuits. That’s not to say the latter should be advocated ahead of healthy options, but how do you satisfy one appetite over another? Or without being accused of temptation?

The likes of Google and Yahoo are able to cater to staff with a vast array of food options available on a daily basis, as well as offering gym support, without breaking a sweat. How is a startup or SME expected to compete with that?

Surely, to benefit all workers and not just a select few, rewards and bonuses for hard work and initiative should be considered ahead of companies paying for weight-loss classes and personal trainers.

A “moral responsibility” like that would go a lot further, allowing people to pay for the  “relatively cheap” nutrition independently – or cakes, if that’s what they’d prefer.