Obesity burden weighs heavily on bottom line

Britain’s obesity epidemic is creating a huge financial drain on employers, with
premiums on company medical insurance rising by up to 15 per cent in the past
year alone, according to HR consultants, Towers Perrin.

The Commons Health Committee has reported that the number of obese people in
the UK has increased eight-fold in the past 25 years. But the exact cost of the
ballooning weight of the population to British business is unclear, as
corporate medical insurance only covers short-term ‘acute’ illness, and not
long-term ‘chronic’ illness.

However, in the US, where obesity rates run at 30.9 per cent, as opposed to
22 per cent in the UK, and medical insurance covers all ailments, the estimated
cost to companies is $13bn (£7m) a year.

A government consultation on health, which includes an employer work group
headed by Work Foundation chief Will Hutton, has just extended its deadline
until the end of June to deal with the scale of the problem.

Its recommendations will feed into a government White Paper later this year.

Steve Haynes, health and risk consultant at Towers Perrin, said a lack of
transparency in medical costs in the UK meant employers were proactive when
investigating staff health problems.

He recommended employers carry out a claims analysis of their existing
healthcare benefits to pinpoint areas of concern and combine this with an
employee health-profiling exercise (see box, right).

However, Chris Davis, from employment lawyers Halliwell Landau, warned that
employers could be open to claims of disability discrimination if they then
used any information gathered from staff to assess their future prospects in
the company.

Microsoft’s head of employee wellbeing, Andrea Knight, said health was
central to staff engagement, which translated into customer satisfaction and
profitability. But she added that you do not need millions to do it.

"Any organisation can promote good health and wellbeing by sharing
topical health information," Knight said. "You cannot put a price on
employee engagement."

By Michael Millar

Three-step guide to managing the health of workers

Effective staff health management is a three-step process that
needs executive commitment at the highest level, healthcare experts say.

1. Benchmarking

– Help each employee understand their health status

– Provide an aggregate review of the whole company that can be
segmented for effective targeting of improvement programmes

– Enable companies and individuals to benchmark themselves
against peers

2. Create an effective health assessment

It should be:

– Inclusive and available to all

– Confidential

– Designed for use by staff

– Empowering

– Linked to business drivers

– Statistically validated

– Measure ‘leading’ indicators (health risk), not ‘trailing’
indicators (illness and absence)

3. Effective communication for
‘health promotion’

– Target segments and personalise to environments and

– Use integrated media

– Use promotional techniques such as competitions and loyalty

– Articulate the benefits. People aren’t motivated by ‘stress
management’, but they do respond to ‘strength and resilience programmes’.

– Accountability. Programmes should be measured, evaluated and
revised based on feedback.

Source: Vielife

For further advice from Vielife on employee wellbeing, go to


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