What we eat, its impact on our health and, consequently, how it makes us feel has gained more focus and attention in recent years. We now have a better understanding of the potential long-term implications of excessive reliance on convenience foods, high calorie food choices, coupled with widespread sedentary lifestyles. Recent evidence from an NHS Digital Health Survey1 reported that up to 68% of the adult population in the UK are either overweight or obese.
Research has shown that being overweight or obese puts us at a higher risk of many different chronic health conditions, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some musculoskeletal conditions e.g. joint problems. The importance of good nutrition is also evidenced by the Institute for Health Metrics, who conclude that poor nutrition has nearly three times the impact on health as low fitness2 and several studies have shown a link between obesity and higher sickness absence3. At healthcare rm, we have also observed this trend in our own data, which shows a correlation between being overweight and inactive with a greater prevalence of sickness absence.
So, what are the implications for the world of work?
We know that fueling the body appropriately and providing ourselves with the correct nutrients essential to perform optimally, helps us to be more focused, maintain improved concentration and decision-making. In turn, improved weight management reduces the risk of other health conditions developing and potential absenteeism and under-performance. The importance of maintaining our mental and physical health receives considerable airtime and press, but good nutrition is no less important for optimal performance at work, quality of life and healthy longevity.
The combination of state pension age having increased to 67, with further increases likely, the demise of final salary pension schemes and the dependency of defined contribution schemes on a volatile stock market, means that it is highly likely that people will be working into later years of life.
According to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph4 “after a lifetime of saving, the average UK pension pot stands at £61,897”. Pause to think about that for a moment. With mean life expectancy at birth now being slightly under 80 for males and around 83 for females5, how far will £61,897 go in retirement? Answer – not very far. “With current annuity rates, this would buy you an average retirement income of around £3,000 per year from (age) 67”.
Put simply, an ageing working population with increasing prevalence of chronic conditions could place a considerable burden on employers and insurers.
Why is healthy nutrition important?
Similar to maintaining good physical and mental health, we believe there is a personal responsibility to maintain good, healthy nutrition, following basic principles, such as reducing consumption of processed foods, refined sugars and saturated fats, coupled with eating more fruits and vegetables and staying hydrated throughout the day. Of course, other key factors have a part to play in maintaining good overall health and wellbeing, such as getting good sleep, being physically active and staying socially connected, but healthy nutrition is at least as important as these other factors in maintaining good long-term health and quality of life, throughout life.
a healthy workforce is a healthy business
The global pandemic has disrupted many of our daily routines and, consequently, the working lives of many of us has changed radically; possibly permanently. When our usual routine is disturbed, it often impacts on our dietary habits and food choices. Statista reports that 40% of Britons stated they had increased the amount of food consumed daily whilst in lockdown6.
It is, therefore, increasingly more pertinent that we educate our workforce on the benefits of eating well and help people to understand how they can make impactful changes to their diet to help improve their long-term health, wellbeing and overall performance in the longer term. After all, we are what we eat, and a healthy workforce is a healthy business.
Ellie Hickman – Nutritional Therapist, BSc (Hons) MSc, BANT-CNHC
Paul Nattrass – Commercial Director MSc.
1 NHS Digital Health Survey (2019) Health Survey for England 2019 [NS] Official statistics, National statistics [Online] https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2019 [Accessed: 29/4/21]
2 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) (2013) Dietary risks are leading cause of disease burden in the US and contributed to more health loss in 2010 than smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar [online] http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/dietary-risks-are-leading-cause-disease-burden-us-and-contributed-more-health-loss-2010 June 16, 2021
3 Reber KC, König H, Hajek A Obesity and sickness absence: results from a longitudinal nationally representative sample from Germany BMJ Open 2018;8:e019839. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019839. Pihlajamäki M, Uitti J, Arola H, et al Self-reported health problems and obesity predict sickness absence during a 12-month follow-up: a prospective cohort study in 21 608 employees from different industries
6 Statista (2020) Changes in eating habits during the coronavirus lockdown in Great Britain 2020 Published by Conor Stewart, May 7, 2020 Distribution of changes in people’s eating habits due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in Great Britain as of April 2020 [online] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1114594/eating-habit-changes-during-lockdown-in-great-britain/ [Date accessed 29/4/2021]