UK businesses are being called to tackle obesity, with 31 percent of employees saying their employers should help them lose weight, according to research on behalf of PMI Health Group.

The study, which surveyed 582 employees across the UK, found that 34 percent of respondents believe companies have a moral responsibility to help them maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle, and 35 percent said businesses should introduce specific schemes to combat weight issues among their staff.

PMI Health Group Director, Mike Blake, said:

“Obesity is a rapidly growing problem in the UK – one that is estimated to cost the economy £47 billion a year.”

“Consequently, employers are coming under pressure to share the responsibility for tackling the problem by helping staff to lead healthier lifestyles. But, aside from the obvious benefit to employees, a proactive approach is also good for the long-term health of the business, helping to tackle sickness absence before it becomes an issue.

“The cost of diabetes to the NHS, for example, is expected to rise from £9.8 billion to £16.9 billion over the next 25 years. Initiatives such as cycle-to-work schemes, fitness classes, nutritional advice and weight-loss programmes can be relatively cheap to implement but provide clear economic benefit by reducing the risk of serious conditions developing.”

The study follows the December ruling by the European Court of Justice that severe obesity can constitute a disability and calls from the head of the NHS to financially reward employers who introduce weight-loss schemes.

Male respondents were more interested in such schemes, with 38 percent calling for their introduction compared to 31 percent of women.