Tackling obesity at work

A new Government study says Britons are the most obese people in Europe. Surveying your workforce from the directors down, it strikes you that this is not the leanest of organisations

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Last Updated: 18 Dec 2014

The extra weight might be causing sickness absence and reduced productivity. Time to join the battle of the bulge.Explain why size matters. Educate your employees about why bodyweight is important and why you're getting involved. Clive Pinder, MD of health and wellbeing company VieLife, says: 'Health is connected to people's energy, vitality and performance, and ultimately to their productivity.'

Volunteers, please. Start by finding out how many employees are overweight or obese - but it can't be compulsory, they must put themselves forward. 'You have to market all the elements of your health programme just as a junk-food or tobacco company would market their products,' says Pinder. 'You need to trust the people who work for you to make the right choices, and create the right environment to help them do it.'

Tailor the programme. Think about different strategies for different groups of workers, says Lisa Doherty of the Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust. 'For example, shift workers might find it particularly difficult to exercise and eat healthily.'

Walk the talk. To encourage people to walk around more, move the company car park half a mile away; decorate the stairwells and hang pictures there; move departments around so people aren't next to their most frequent contacts; and encourage people to hold small meetings walking around outside.

Anyone for a banana? Goodbye chocolate-chip cookies in the morning meeting; hello bananas and figs. Put healthy options in your vending machines, and fix prices in the cafeteria so salad is cheaper than chips.

Look beyond leotards. Encourage exercise: offer subsidised gym membership; introduce lunchtime aerobics; build showers for those who cycle in. Directors of one firm led guided walks around the town.

Avoid discriminating. It's only a matter of time before courts recognise obesity as a disability, says Jonathan Chamberlain, partner at lawyers Wragge & Co. 'You could discriminate against someone in the selection process if they were not physically able to do the job, but even then, you must consider whether reasonable adjustments could be made that would allow them to do it. In the case of a health-and-fitness instructor, that may prove impossible.' Discriminating against overweight people on the grounds of looks alone is dangerous territory.

Careful with those carrots. 'Concentrate your incentives on the opportunity to lead a healthy lifestyle,' says Chamberlain. 'If you offer individual rewards for losing weight, that might stigmatise people who are obese.'

Do say: 'We want to give our people the opportunity to achieve the right weight so they are healthier and work better.'

Don't say: 'We're not having any fatties in this office.'

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