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Is obesity set to be the 'new normal' for the UK's workforce?

Figures released by the Cancer Research UK this week show a huge 45 per cent rise in the number of cases of cancer caused by excess weight in just two decades. On current trends, nearly 3 in 4 adults will be overweight or obese by 2035 – obesity is on course to become “the new normal”!
The knock on effect of these statistics are going to be profound.  The study highlights that a rise in the number of people who are overweight or obese would contribute to 4.6 million additional cases of type-2 diabetes, 1.6 million extra cases of heart disease and more than 700,000 new cases of cancer within 20 years.  As a result, the experts estimate this could lead to an additional £2.5bn in costs to the National Health Service for 2035 alone.
At Healthy Performance and through our screenings of employees in the UK, we are uniquely positioned to identify trends within our sample population and all though these are not able to represent the UK as a whole, they can be a useful indicator of how attitudes and behaviours are changing.
Indeed, we are actually seeing reducing body fat percentages in the UK’s workforce.  The difference between male and female workers is quite a marked one with the average male employee being both more active and having a lower body fat percentage compared to the average female employee. This correlates with the self-rated score for diet that we record at the time of the body fat reading, with more men rating their diet as good or above, than women.

Age group 2014 result 2015 result % body fat range
< 29 years 17.1% 16.8% Healthy
Male employees 30 – 49 years 20.9% 20.8% Borderline
50 + years 25.2% 25.2% Borderline
Age group 2014 result 2015 result % body fat range
< 29 years 26.9% 27.8% Borderline
Female employees 30 – 49 years 32.7% 31.9% Borderline
50 + years 38.1% 37.8% Unhealthy
                               Summary of % body fat results

Another trend we can see in the screening data is that the younger employees have on average a lower body fat reading, this trend continues as we look at the middle age range group compared to the oldest age range group, again the younger group had lower body fat readings on average. Between the years 2014 and 2015 the results show that only one group had a negative change in the readings (Female < 29 years) with all the other groups showing a positive change (reducing body fat) or no change. This is a trend opposite to that seen in the wider UK population. The group involved in these screenings are receiving personal guidance on how to improve diet and lifestyle choices from health care professionals, which looks to be working.
The employees were asked to rate their diet between 1-10, where 1 is the highest score and 10 is the lowest. The percentage of male employees that rated their diet 1-5 (good and above) was 47.6% but for women this figure was 37.9%.
There is still quite a lot that could be done to close the gap between the sexes, women in particular could increase the time they spend being active. 38.8% of men in the study claim to be active for 2 or more hours per week but only 26.9% of the women asked, claimed this activity level. The government recommends adults to complete moderate aerobic activity for 150 minutes per week.
The Healthy Performance focus during the 2016 health and wellbeing screenings will be to apply more encouragement towards the groups identified here, specifically women’s activity levels. With results that show an improving picture of employee health that bucks the UK trend we are very well positioned to continue this improvement in the health of the nation’s workforce.

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