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Hot topic: is obesity a disability? Part two

At the end of last year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the effects of obesity can constitute a disability. With 64% of adults in the UK classed as overweight or obese, what role – if any – should employers play in managing the weight of their workforce?

Obesity is a major public health issue – now thought to affect almost a quarter of UK adults.

Many employers have begun to take action to help combat this growing trend, but more can still be done.

We have found that it is vital for businesses to play a more active role in ensuring the good health of their employees. The workplace culture must be one that is more flexible and does not embed sedentary behaviour, but discourages it.

Twelve months ago we moved central offices, allowing for a measured shift in working practices, which can be viewed as an example of the difference that HR directors can play in changing workplace practices.

We have been able to provide staff with an on-site gym, fitness experts on hand to help, and a fitness studio, where the latest classes are offered before, during and after work. In addition, we have a GP and physiotherapist available who offer clinical advice to employees. We hold regular ‘meet our experts’ events, which pass on knowledge and enable staff to speak to specialists about topics such as obesity.

HR directors can help prevent the rising trend of obesity and inform employees about chronic disease by playing an active role in nutrition. We are fortunate in that we can provide a subsidised wellbeing café to our staff. This has been strengthened by our recently-introduced Nuffield Health 12-week healthy weight programme, piloted in the central office, which focuses on balanced diet and regular physical activity.

Employers have both the opportunity and environment to help combat the growing obesity epidemic. The chance is there to educate and engage with staff. Chronic disease not only harms individual employees, but also the business that employs them.

Marcus Powell is group OD and HR director at Nuffield Health

Read the first part of the obesity Hot Topic