8 easy steps to help you and your company get healthier
Why do people get it so wrong?
In 2005, a landmark study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine¹. In this paper, which used data from a health survey of 28,375 employees, the authors showed that each health risk (i.e. obesity, inactivity, poor nutrition and elevated blood pressure) resulted in a productivity loss of around 2.4%. In most countries, employee risk prevalence data shows the average employee has 4 risk factors, translating into average productivity losses of nearly 10% per employee for issues related to health and lifestyle. We can’t expect to fully eradicate this risk, but we can aspire to reduce the risk factor prevalence to well below 4 risks per employee.
Physical health is really quite simple – eat well, keep fit, manage stress, don’t smoke and get adequate sleep - the recipe for good health. The unfortunate fact is that an overwhelming majority of people fail at doing so.
In industrialised countries, inactivity runs at about 70%, with 1 in 5 smoking, 1 in 10 uncomfortably stressed, and nearly 1 in 3 falling short of the sleep guidelines². Most people consume less than half the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables and obesity is expected to overtake smoking as the world’s biggest killer in the coming years.
Houston, we have a problem
That’s fine, we have a solution - eat well, keep fit, manage stress, don’t smoke and get adequate sleep. Say it as often as you like, it doesn’t help most people adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Why is it so hard? It must be hard, or two billion people wouldn’t get it so terribly wrong.
With 2,8 million people dying of weight related illnesses annually³, and a whopping 120 million years of disability attributed to high BMI annually⁴, weight comes second only to smoking as a global health issue (smoking results in 6 million deaths per annum and 150 million years of disability⁵).
Interestingly, smoking, once the pastime of the middle and upper classes, is now more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, thanks to some great marketing by Big Tobacco in an effort to replace dwindling numbers in high income countries where smoking rates have plummeted.
Obesity is following a similar path, with countries like China, Egypt, Pakistan and India joining the US, Canada, Australia and the UK as the world’s most obese nations.
So why is it so hard to live a healthy lifestyle?
Theories abound, and here’s a few leading contenders;
- We’re hedonists – pleasure seeking machines, here for a good time not a long time
- EQ – Emotional Intelligence; the emotional equivalent of IQ. The two big items from a nutrition perspective are impulse control and delayed gratification. Without these, we’re back to point.
- Opportunity - it’s called convenience food for a reason
- Evolution - we evolved on the African Savannah where salt, fat and sugar were in limited supply and actually enhanced health. Our capacity to moderate consumption of these evolved tastes now that they are in abundance is thwarted by our genetic predisposition to seek out and consume these foods.
- Savouring and mindfulness - we often eat on the run, at the desk, or in front to the TV. These are not ideal situations for savouring food, and without savouring, or mindful eating as it’s now called, we need to eat more to feel full. We need to relearn our appreciation of food.
- Processed foods - these generally contain much less fibre (and more fat, salt and sugar) than the products that go into them. Fibre absorbs fluid and “bulks up” as it traverses the gastro-intestinal tract, contributing to regularity (it causes peristalsis, the caterpillar like waves of muscular contraction that push food through), and to satiety (fullness).
- Sedentary work - work has become sedentary for most of us. Since 1960, occupational energy expenditure has dropped by 140 kcals/day, or by 10%⁶. Over the course of a year that amounts to 365 x 140 = 51,100 kcals (214,620 kJ) which equates to 6-7 kg of weight gain. Over your working life, that’s going to do some damage to your waistline!
- Add in screen time, mode of transport, leisure time, labour saving devices, working hours, commuting time and we legitimise the most common reason people give for not being more active – no time
In reality, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors, plus contributions from a myriad of others. But a few billion people do get it right… so there’s hope!
SHAPE provides an assessment of Physical Health through a Health Risk Appraisal questionnaire which looks at the critical health behaviours; Nutrition, Exercise, Smoking, Alcohol, Sleep and BMI. It also calculates “Health Age” which provides users with an easy to understand metric of where they stand in relation to biological vs chronological age, and the factors that contribute to the difference.
¹Burton WN, et al. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine. 2005 Aug;47(8):769-77.
²"Global Health Risks : Mortality And Burden Of Disease Attributable To Selected Major Risks". 2009. Apps.Who.Int.
³"Obesity Statistics". 2020. European Association For The Study Of Obesity.
⁴Jha, Prabhat, et al. 2006. "Tobacco Addiction". Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov.
⁵"Health Effects Of Overweight And Obesity In 195 Countries Over 25 Years". 2017. New England Journal Of Medicine 377 (1): 13-27. doi:10.1056/nejmoa1614362.
⁶Hill, James O., Holly R. Wyatt, and John C. Peters. 2012. "Energy Balance And Obesity". Circulation 126 (1): 126-132. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.111.087213.