Employers should encourage staff to take up lunchtime spin classes or yoga in a bid to tackle obesity, health officials said. Other workplace measures mentioned include stand-up meetings, making staircases more attractive than lifts and telling workers to take a break and take a walk.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) issued the quality standard as part of wider plans to get British people thinner. It said workplaces could highlight local gym classes, offer subsidised gym memberships and distribute leaflets encouraging people to take the stairs and take regular breaks from sitting down. Offices should also have adequate bike storage, showers and changing facilities, and staff could be given access to a pool of bikes for short-distance business travel. The published guide highlights that being active is important for both physical and mental health. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that more than 131 million working days were lost to sickness in 2017, including 13 million working days lost to stress, depression or anxiety.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at Nice, said,
If the United Kingdom’s 5.7 million small and medium sized businesses encouraged their workforce to be more active, they are more likely to reap the benefits of having engaged employees who are more productive and are less likely to take time off sick. Simple things like providing secure bicycle storage, showers and changing facilities can go a long way to enabling people to cycle to work or to meetings.
As a society we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough.
We need people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise. If they can do this during the working day, not only will they benefit, but so too will their employers and the NHS. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Seema Kennedy, public health minister, said,
We have a world-leading plan to tackle obesity with prevention at its core, and later this summer we will be setting out further action on obesity and physical activity through a prevention green paper. It is vital that employers embrace prevention to ensure their staff stay fit and healthy.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said,
Exercise can have a hugely positive impact on our physical and mental health, so making it easier for people to be more active as part of their daily routine – both at work and in their leisure time – is key to helping patients live a long and healthy life. We would urge employers to seek to swiftly implement these recommendations in some capacity as ultimately, a healthy workforce will be a more productive, and hopefully happier one.
Dr Andy Cope, director of insight at Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity said,
Cycling and walking to and from work is one of the best ways to incorporate physical activity into our lives. In 2017 alone, walking and cycling on the National Cycle Network prevented 630 early deaths and averted nearly 8,000 serious long-term health conditions, with more than 56 per cent of the journeys taken being for functional reasons, such as travelling to work, taking children to school, visiting shops and friends.
We encourage all employers and their workforces to embrace the Nice quality standard and make physical activity an easy, attractive and practical choice for everyone.”
Almost two-thirds of people in the UK are obese or overweight.
The Nice guide also urges councils to appoint a physical activity champion in their area. Local authorities should also involve the public in designing and managing open spaces, while schools should have plans to encourage walking, scooting and cycling to school.
Interested in workplace wellbeing? we recommend the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Forum 2019.