The ever-increasing problem of obesity in the UK

11 January 2018

Scarily, more than a quarter of the UK’s population is now obese, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s annual Health at a Glance report1.

The 26.9% figure gives the UK the unwanted stat of being the most obese nation in western Europe, trailing only Hungary in the entire continent2. If that didn’t make for grim reading, obesity in the UK has increased by a staggering 92% since the 1990s.3



With the season of culinary excess just behind us, and the New Year traditionally a time for fresh starts, it’s the perfect time for businesses to get the word out there.

The pressures of work and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle can mean employees rarely move from their desk except to grab something to eat while working. Not only does this contribute to weight gain, but a poor diet can also lower attention spans and make it harder to process information.4

At the far end of the scale (no pun intended) being overweight or obese can result in:

  • more sickness absence
  • increased costs
  • ill-feeling from employees who believe their company could do more to help.

Importantly, it can even lead to businesses falling foul of disability law. This follows an employment tribunal’s landmark ruling in 2013 that stated while an employee’s obesity was not a disability in itself, the associated and compounded health problems were and upheld his discrimination claim5.

However, the good news is that many organisations are now committed to workplace wellbeing. In fact, says the CIPD, almost 75% of businesses offer some sort of health and promotion benefit.6


So what can employers do to help employees look after their weight and health?

An obvious first step is to look at what meals or snacks are on offer. Whether you have a canteen or vending machines, replacing some of the crisps and choc bars with fruit or healthy cereal bars can help. Adding a range of salads, cereals or nuts can also prove popular. As an extra incentive, some businesses offer free fruit either as a standalone or when employees buy lunch as a cheap way to promote healthier lifestyles.

Other options to think about:

  • Employee benefits can sometimes include a discount on gym membership, but for those small businesses that can’t afford it, a lunchtime or after work exercise class can get people out of their desks and the heart pounding (in a good way). Even simpler, a running club or even an unofficial running session needs nothing more than proper footwear, sports gear and the space outside your door.
  • Providing pedometers can open people’s eyes to how little walking they actually do. And to help promote more activity both in and out of the office, competitions (and prizes) for the most steps covered can engage and encourage employees.
  • You may like to consider an annual health check for staff as part and parcel of a wider health and wellbeing strategy. A number of healthcare organisations will come to your workplace and carry out basic tests that typically include height and weight, a diabetes check, cholesterol levels and a Q & A around general lifestyle.
  • And even the smallest business with the tightest budget can get involved, simply by encouraging more activity by introducing walking meetings, or just by offering advice on, or signposting to, resources and support for healthy eating, nutrition or a healthier lifestyle.


For more information on how to tackle obesity, take a look at the NHS’s website which includes a section on health and fitness for all levels, and losing weight, including a 12-point plan.



1, 2, 3. OECD, Health at a glance – OECD indicators - 2017
4. Workplace wellbeing charter – Healthy Eating at Work - 2015
6. CIPD – absence management report 2016