With more than half of the UK population heading for obesity by 2050, with an annual cost to society approaching £50 billion, it is easy to see why the media talks about an obesity crisis on a near-daily basis.
So, how can employers, office workers and sedentary employees ensure that they don’t become one of these statistics? As many of us our confined to our desks for 7-8 hours a day and as a result, find it difficult to get proper nutrition during the working day. In today’s fast passed society nutrition is as important as ever. Salty, fatty or sugary snacks from the office vending machine or canteen may give us a quick boost, but in the long run they are only slowing us down.
Sugary foods such as chocolate bars and cakes offer forms of energy that hit the blood stream straight away making us feel recharged. This causes the body to react and produce insulin which helps to digest sugar properly and prevent the blood glucose from going too high at once. But as this fails and the glucose levels plummet again the body is forced to generate too much adrenaline which can then lead to nervousness, irritability and depression.
Poor nutrition is also directly linked with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity. In 2010 obesity accounted for 18 million days of sickness absence and 30,000 premature deaths. The indirect cost to business through loss of earnings due to sickness from obesity rose to £3.6 billion from £2.58 billion in 2004.
While unhealthy foods contribute to ill health and a reduction in job performance, healthy alternatives and a balanced diet can significantly improve workplace productivity. Research has shown that inadequate nourishment can reduce employee’s efficiency by 20% and that poor nutrition is directly linked to absenteeism, sickness, low morale and higher rates of workplace accidents. Paying people who are not at work is costly and absences may also have an impact on customer service, product quality and the workload and stress of other employees.
What can organisations do to actively encourage staff to change their eating habits and at the same time ensure a healthy impact on the company’s productivity and profits?
A good starting point is assessing the nutritional environment of the workplace as this is a fundamental part of any employee wellbeing programme. In 2011, 59% of adults surveyed cited “hard to get at work” as the most popular reason for not eating fruit and vegetables, 62% of those surveyed said they skipped lunch or lunched at their desk at least once a week, and 20% said they never take a lunch break at all.
Encourage staff to prepare their own food to work. Swapping crisps and pastries for fruit, nuts and vegetables will not only save money – those that do this will consume around 15,000 calories less a month! If you have a canteen, make sure that food and drink options are healthy and limit salt and sugar. Another good strategy is to replace soft drinks and coffee machines with water coolers and arrange fresh fruit deliveries over unhealthy vending machines.
Investments into nutrition are repaid in a reduction of sick days and an increase in productivity and morale. The money spent will not only help to look after your current employees, it may well be an attractive tool in recruitment.