Unilever has vowed to help employees lose weight and eat more healthily after a year-long health pilot at the firm was deemed a success.
The Domestos manufacturer said it would offer all 7,500 UK employees advice on better diets and exercise after a workplace trial involving 175 employees last year helped some to improve their health and fitness.
In all 104 office workers underwent healthchecks at the start of the year, of which 48 (80%) were deemed obese. At the end of the year, 42 returned for a second weigh-in, with 16 (38%) being overweight. This amounts to a 9% reduction in the number of people classed as overweight.
A similar experiment with the remaining 71 employees was carried out at Unilever’s Port Sunlight factory in Merseyside, where small numbers of people managed to lose weight and cut body fat.
Half of the office employees (52%) and nearly half of the factory workers (42%) taking part acknowledged the pilot had improved the quality of their diet.
Alan Walters, vice-president of HR, Unilever UK & Ireland, said the 12-month scheme had highlighted the important role employers can play to tackle the UK’s obesity crisis.
He said: “Through taking some simple measures, major employers have a real opportunity to help employees live healthy lives – quickly, on a sufficiently large scale, and with no impact on public spending.
“By rolling out Fit Business across all of our UK & Ireland sites and sharing our insights into complex behaviour change, we hope to play an important role in helping tackle the rising challenge of obesity facing the UK.”
Nearly two-thirds (61%) of adults in England are overweight – 24% of whom are obese, according to the latest NHS figures.
Walters said the most successful parts of the pilot included the healthchecks, which offered individuals bespoke appointments to help them understand blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI) measures. Providing “attention grabbing” nutritional information in staff canteens also helped employees to make informed dietary choices.
He called on the government to explore options for extending food labelling at work locations and ensure public, private and voluntary sectors worked together to set targets for public health.
Carey Oppenheim, co-director of think-tank IPPR, which endorsed Unilever’s pilot, said: “If we want to tackle the problem of our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, we need to make a huge joint effort. Individuals have the main responsibility – but government and employers can help.
“This very useful project has given us greater understanding of how to trigger behaviour change and it shows that the workplace can be an important setting for catalysing and supporting healthier lifestyles. It would be good to see other employers taking a look at these findings and applying them to their businesses.”