OH departments need to embrace fat challenge

The changes in work patterns in this country over the past three decades has led to a shift in emphasis for OH departments, from managing health and safety within heavy industry to tackling the problems of stress and musculoskeletal disorders in primarily office-based workplaces.

And according to a Commons Select Committee earlier this year (OH news, July 2004), the increase in numbers of obese adults in the workplace is another less acknowledged consequence of our more sedentary lifestyle.

As the article reveals, the number of obese adult women in the UK has nearly trebled in 20 years from about 8 per cent to 23 per cent, while in men the rates have nearly quadrupled, from 6 per cent to 22 per cent.

The costs to this country and its workforce are staggering. A study by the National Audit Office in 2002 estimated that obesity costs the NHS £500m a year, with the overall cost to the country estimated at up to £7.4bn a year.

No wonder the Commons Select Committee was surprised at the lack of interest employers were taking in helping to tackle this (literally) expanding problem and was encouraging them to take a more proactive stance.

This month’s issue publishes the latest thinking on ways to tackle the obesity epidemic. Three of the short listed teams described in the awards profile have instigated health promotion initiatives, which go some away to tackling the core problems of obesity in the workforce.

And the CPD article on obesity describes the increasing levels of ill health and workplace absence caused by obesity and offers tips on instigating workable health promotions.

There are also plentiful resources for OH practitioners in the front line of this huge health promotion challenge.

By Sara Bean, editor OH.Editor@rbi.co.uk

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