Living Healthier Lives



01 September 2020

The Government recently announced a new “Obesity Strategy” as it urged the country to “lose weight to beat coronavirus and protect the NHS”.

The reason for this new public health push is that evidence to date suggests that many people who are overweight struggle to fight-off the effects of COVID-19. 

To quote from the Government’s own website on this issue:

“Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.”

Yet the risks of being overweight were already widely accepted prior to the pandemic anyway.  The government website suggests that almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity, and obesity-related illnesses is estimated to cost the NHS £6 billion a year.  So COVID-19 has only added a new layer of health concerns to this existing issue.

Where are we now?

So has the pandemic – or the government’s recent push to highlight this problem – much changed the way that the nation is looking after itself?

Research company YouGov surveyed 1711 UK adults on this point in August.  They asked;

“How has COVID-19 changed the way that you look after yourself physically, it at all?"

And the responses were as follows:

  • I’m looking after myself more than I was:  26%
  • I’m looking after myself less than I was:  10%
  • No change – I was looking after myself before and I still am:  49%
  • No change – I was not looking after myself before and I’m still not:  12%
  • Don’t know:  4%

Which suggests only a relatively small improvement so far, although any progress is clearly good news.  And given this new health initiative started in the midst of the (often much-needed) 2020 holiday season, there are grounds to hope that these findings might improve once the nation returns to work in the autumn.

Improving physical health

But what is clear is that losing weight – and indeed improving other areas of physical health – is likely to be as good for the individual as it is for the wider nation.  And it follows that it’s likely to be good news for employers also.  After all less illness is also likely to equal less serious and long-term absence.  And that is a key measure in controlling costs and improving productivity in these deeply uncertain and worrying times.

But can employers get involved in a campaign to encourage their workers to lose weight?  It is after all a very personal and sensitive issue, and many would (perhaps rightly) feel nervous of stepping into such potentially controversial territory.

Yet there is certainly no harm in, at the very least, signposting your workforce towards areas of support and help available.  For those with very limited Employee Benefits offerings, then the NHS “Better Health” website is a good place to start.  Whereas those employers with a more sophisticated and robust benefits offering may well find plenty of tools are already available as part of their existing package.  Such tools can be promoted and harnessed to benefit employees and employer alike.

The bottom line is that encouraging employees to look after themselves more – and in particular control their weight – is an area that will benefit everyone, and won’t cost the employer much or anything extra to support.  So now might well be a good time to encourage more workers towards this really positive and potentially life-improving step.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 01/09/20)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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