What Is the Role of Employers in the Management of Obesity?

Obesity has been an increasingly concerning potential for change in the world. Impacting millions of people already, there is no surprise that its effect on society is far reaching. Global health, individual wellbeing, the economy, and the workplace: obesity’s wrath knows no bounds. 

Research by Imperial College, London predicts that a fifth of the world’s population will be obese by 2025, with the UK ranking at the top of Europe’s obesity league. Sedentary jobs, poor diet, and unhealthy lifestyle choices have been largely contributing to weight gain in recent years which are all impacting the weight health of a vast number of people.

However, obesity can be a very sticky subject to bring up.

People who live with obesity have abnormally high levels of fat in their body, and this is measured with the body mass index (BMI), a calculation of weight and height. If their BMI is over 30, they are classed as obese. Current statistics show that 25.9% of adults in the UK are currently obese, and almost three quarters of those aged 45-74 are overweight or obese.

We believe it is crucial for employers to recognize the impact of obesity and related weight health problems on their workforce, with the outlook of taking proactive measures to address this issue. With obesity rates rising, as does the risk of medical complications thanks to weight health. The negative impact of obesity on health cannot be ignored, and it is imperative for workplaces to prioritize the health and well-being of their employees.

We’d like to lay out the ways in which we believe employers can have a role in the management of obesity for the benefit of their companies, their productivity, and society as a whole. 


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Obesity’s Role in Weight Health

Obesity has a profound influence on our health as it relates to our weight. Our weight health can have impacts on both our physical and mental well-being, thus having knock on effects in workplace management, productivity, and presentism. 

When a person carries excess weight, the risk of various health conditions will increase. The medical conditions include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer. In fact, several studies have seen that obesity has a higher link to cancer risk than smoking, with it being an underlying cause in up to 8% of all cancer cases. The risk of cancer in the liver, gallbladder, bowel, breasts, kidney, and pancreas among others, all increase in people living with obesity.

In much more direct links to health, carrying excess weight places added stress on our joints, leading to joint pain and increased risk of arthritis. It contributes to the damage of soft tissue as well as increasing pressure on the hips and the knees, with every pound of fat contributing to an additional 4-6 pounds of pressure on joints. In physical jobs that require plenty of walking and movement, this additional pressure would make workplace injuries more common and more severe.

Our weight can also impact our respiratory health, as it causes reduced lung volumes and exacerbates infections in the respiratory tract, as well as the increased need for blood flow and oxygen levels that come naturally from having higher levels of fat.

Sleep disturbance is another common result of living with obesity and can contribute to a whole host of other risk factors for health issues since lack of sleep is linked to depletions in our immune systems as well as mental health problems.

Mental health is also closely intertwined with weight. Negative body image and low self-esteem often accompany weight gain, leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life. Mental health can cause weight gain too, so this becomes a toxic circle that can be very difficult to escape from, making people living with obesity feel alone and cornered, struggling to break away.

When combatting health problems attributable to excessive weight, the logical response should be to focus on the root causes rather than on treating the symptoms. That’s why at Bodyline we believe managing weight as a way to manage overall health of the public and the workforce should be prioritised by employers throughout the country.

The Relationship between Weight Health and Work

As listed above, obesity’s effect on the public’s weight health is abundant, and each health problem has its own impact on employees. But unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple as the relationship between work and weight is a complex one. 

Routines, variances in schedule, movement and activity throughout the workday, all impact weight health and yet are all often caused by a person’s role or workplace environment. An office worker who answers calls all day sat at a desk leads a sedentary lifestyle and may feel too exhausted to exercise before or after their workday. Alternatively, a nurse whose hours can sometimes be through the night may have severe sleep disturbances which contribute to their weight health and prevent them from losing weight effectively.

However, obesity has real tangible impacts on the workforce too. Obesity is directly responsible for many early deaths thanks to its impact on the development of life-threatening problems like heart disease and cancer, and these early deaths are directly reducing numbers in the workforce.

Absenteeism is higher in those living with obesity due to the weight related health problems. Current statistics show that in the UK 131 million working days are lost due to sickness every year, but as obesity levels rise these days lost will increase with it, costing the economy way more than the current estimate of £22 billion pounds.

In turn, obesity impacts the workforce by leading to loss of productivity across the country. Obesity can be attributed to an increased likelihood of workplace accidents, so this coupled with increased absenteeism is destroying productivity for the UK’s economy.

The stigma surrounding weight and obesity is negatively impacting the ability to tackle the problem, as well as potentially causing further problems within the workplace such as discrimination, prejudice, and bullying, exacerbating mental health problems and only impacting productivity more.

Since the relationship is mutual, in that obesity impacts the workforce just as work impacts their weight, the approach to tackling these issues should be multi-faceted and holistic to each individual lifestyle. 

Why Should Employers Help, and How?

If the cold hard facts of this article aren’t enough to convince that employers could be helping reduce the cost of obesity, maybe this section will.

Many believe that obesity is simply a lifestyle choice, but that can be very far from the truth in most cases. Obesity isn’t just a result of lifestyle; it can also be caused by factors far out of people’s control. Medical issues can cause obesity as well as genetic predispositions in metabolism and hormonal imbalances, but also race, class, and disability are also linked to increased risk of obesity. 

Obesity is a disease, a disease that can kill, but as with many health conditions, it can be preventable. Just as employers must ensure the equipment that they offer their employees does not cause back problems and sick leave, or their health and safety action plans avoid workplace injuries, reducing and preventing the health problems associated with obesity can effectively reduce the likelihood of mental health issues, prevent related sick leave, and promote productivity in the workplace.

Weight loss is therefore the most effective tactic in reducing the chances of weight-health related absences and productivity loss. Studies show a loss of 5-10% of body weight can positively impact a person’s health outcomes, thus improving their workplace presenteeism. Sustained weight loss of this level is proven to:

  • Reduce absenteeism by more than 4 days per year 
  • Improve presenteeism by 6.3% 
  • Reduce lifetime risk of Type 2 diabetes by 3% 
  • Reduce cardiovascular risk by as much as 20% 
  • Improve HDL cholesterol and triglycerides 
  • Reduce the severity of sleep apnoea by more than 25%

Healthy and happy staff members mean healthy and happy work, producing healthy and happy profits – as an employer, what’s more to love? But the real question is: how?

It’s an extremely delicate subject, and one cannot just approach an employee living with obesity and offer the ways in which they can help solve it. However, by making it known the company offers schemes or avenues to treat weight health and obesity, this allows employees to seek out help themselves. Promoting healthy eating in the workplace or exercise through schemes like ‘Cycle to Work’ can help, but as previously mentioned: obesity is not always something that can be fixed by diet and exercise alone. 

This is why having specialist weight health partners through occupational health providers could be the ideal solution. Employers could offer their workforce the latest in weight health treatment: medical weight loss solutions in the form of scientifically backed injectable or oral therapies alongside fully supported weight loss programmes.

Occupational Health and Obesity

Here at Bodyline, we are the official medical wellness partners of several Occupational Health providers in the UK, offering our services to those who are referred to us by their employers.

We have over 17 years of experience aiding in weight health management and have found that weight loss injections and oral treatments can be an incredibly beneficial for managing weight health in adults across the spectrum of careers. The treatments we offer contain substances that aid in appetite control, metabolism regulation, and fat breakdown by helping users remain in a calorie deficit, dulling hunger pangs and ensuring the body doesn’t overeat and overconsume. These therapies are exclusively used as part of a comprehensive weight loss programme and administered under the guidance of healthcare professionals.

The ever-popular results of GLP-1 injectable weight loss therapies could be potentially game-changing for obesity levels in the workforce, as some medications have been seen to lead to an average 15% weight loss in clinical trials, surpassing the advised 5-10% weight loss previously mentioned. 

While the NHS has the potential to help, long wait lists and limited supply can impact their ability to prescribe medical weight loss treatments to all who would benefit from it. It’s also worth noting that this would be at the cost of taxpayers, thus increasing the cost to the economy. 

By partnering with occupational health providers who offer the services of Bodyline, workplaces can provide comprehensive support to employees who want to make use of these programmes, with the goal of ultimately ridding their workforce of obesity and its subsequent health complications.

Don’t just take our word for it. The British Safety Council advises employers that weight management programmes should be offered to employees! However, it is vital they do not contribute to the stigmatisation of individuals living with obesity. Language and tact should be considered to eliminate weight-based stigma and emphasize the contribution that all employees can make to the company and wider economy, as well as the benefits to their personal health.

Being obese or overweight often comes with body image and confidence issues, which contribute to stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits, potentially worsening the problem. In fact, Rightsteps, a mental health provider for corporate and public sectors, have reported a steady increase in the number of referrals with reference to self-esteem and body image. 

Weight-management programmes in work that are non-stigmatising and voluntary can provide the final push for successful weight loss.If you or your employer would benefit from these programmes, why not get in touch with our customer service team today to find out how Bodyline has been helping over 100,000 clients reach their wellness goals.

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