06 August 2015

UK workers continue to neglect their health and wellbeing

UK workers continue to neglect their health and wellbeing

Despite knowing about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, UK workers are still not doing enough to improve their health and wellbeing. 

The study into the health of the UK's working population examined the four "proximate" causes of preventable ill health: poor nutrition, lack of exercise, alcohol excess and smoking, and found that we needed to do more to reduce the risks of lifestyle-related illnesses.

Of the 16,808 people studied, one in five men (20 per cent) said they never eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables* each day. Women appeared to be more aware of the importance of a balanced diet, with a lower 15 per cent who admitted that they didn't ever consume the recommended portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

Being active and physically fit has enormous health and wellbeing benefits but research by The Health Insurance Group and Wellbeing People reported that almost one in five (19 per cent) men and one in four (24 per cent) women were not exercising at all.

Brett Hill, Commercial Director, The Health Insurance Group said: "The report shows just how much more needs to be done to get the nation's workers healthier and happier."

"As defined by the World Health Organisation, a balanced diet of fruit and vegetables a day can lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Only 18 per cent of men are always getting their 5-a-day. Although women fair slightly better with 23 per cent always getting their 5-a-day, there is a worrying group that never eat enough fruit and veg."

"Adults should aim to be active for approximately 150 minutes a week and there are quite a lot of us doing this (38 per cent of males, 31 per cent females) as we know physical activity is important in the management and prevention of many common diseases. There is a stubborn hardcore who do little or nothing in the way of activity, placing them at risk of serious ill health later in life."

Alcohol consumption remains high among the working population with almost a third (30 per cent) of men and a quarter (26 per cent) of females drinking regularly.  Given current concerns about problem drinking, nearly 60 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women claim to sometimes consume more than 6 drinks per day, with 12 per cent of men and 7 per cent saying they regularly did so.

When quizzed on smoking, a habit that has been in decline among the general population for the last 20 years, it emerged that nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of men and a seventh (15 per cent) of women said they smoked regularly.

Added Brett: "Alcohol is 10 per cent of the UK burden of disease and death**, making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. Drinking regularly just above the lower risk guidelines increases the risk of ill health significantly. And while heavy drinking has declined in recent years it seems too many of us are now reaching for the alcohol with more frequency - a sign of more pressured times, perhaps?"

Ben McGannan, Managing Director Wellbeing People concluded, "This important study, unsurprisingly, reveals that some of us are not always eating the right things, some are drinking too much and many are not getting enough exercise. The effect will be to drive up the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses, which costs the taxpayer millions of pounds.  These issues can be tackled effectively not only by education through government schemes and the NHS but also by employers, who have a role to play in helping improve the health and well-being of its workers."

Continued McGannan, "There is a growing body of evidence that shows that the financial benefits enjoyed by organisations that implement wellbeing programmes include reduced sickness absence, improved productivity and reduced staff turnover. Health is the responsibility of every business and employers will benefit from improving the health of the people that work for them." 

*WHO/FAO report recommends a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day 

 **House of Commons Health Committee Government's 2012-2013 Alcohol Strategy 

Health of the UK working age population report

This is the fourth annual report by Wellbeing People, providing the largest definitive "snapshot" of the health of the UK working age population. During 2014 Wellbeing People conducted 46,960 health assessments. 16,808 completed the life balance survey which examines the four proximate causes of preventable ill health: poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, alcohol excess and smoking. Since the first report in 2009 over 150,000 health assessments have been conducted.

The latest report is based on the results of those 46,960 health assessments conducted in 2014 using the Wellbeing People Interactive Health Kiosks.  Approximately 10% of tests were conducted in public areas, so the employment status of the individuals was not recorded.  It represents one of the largest surveys of the health of the working age population in the UK, covering not just overweight statistics such as Body Mass Index, but also Body Fat Content, Blood Pressure readings and self-reported levels of fluid consumption, fruit and vegetable consumption, sleep, stress, exercise inter alia. The data was collected from conducting health assessments of employees in both public and private sector companies as well as members of the general public in readily accessible public health events. It includes data from all regions of the UK. As such, it provides a unique insight into the health of the UK working age population.