Chronic diseases linked to unhealthy lifestyles are costing the UK economy £21.6bn a year in lost productivity, according to research from Healthways, a fitness firm.
A survey of 8,866 people conducted by Gallup found that workers of a “normal weight” without a chronic condition such as obesity, diabetes or cancer, reported taking less than 1.5 days of sickness absence a year. Obese or overweight employees with three or more conditions missed over 18 days a year due to poor health.
Ben Leedle, president and chief executive of Healthways, said: “The implication of the chronic disease burden of the UK’s workforce is at alarming levels. Employers who recognise the importance of improving wellbeing at the workplace are most likely to gain a competitive advantage.”
The Gallup-Healthways wellbeing index in the UK is based on monthly surveys of at least 1,000 people, comprising more than 50 questions measuring people’s physical, emotional, social and financial health. The first index, published in April, found that 25% of the population of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is obese and another 31% is overweight.
The Department of Health’s Health Survey for England confirms that almost a quarter of adults is obese while 66% of men and 57% of women are either overweight or obese. The Government’s public health white paper, published last year, envisages that employers will become “champions of public health”.
However, research from the Department for Work and Pensions suggests the Government still has some way to go to convince employers.
Only a slim majority (56%) of the 2,250 employers surveyed earlier this year agreed that the financial benefits of investing in employee health and wellbeing outweighed the costs, while half thought that their employees would not want them to intervene in this area.
Two-thirds had not taken any actions to help employees with health problems to stay in work or return to work. Just a quarter agreed that sickness absence was a barrier to productivity and 21% did not have a system in place for recording sickness absence.