Opinion: How can businesses combat the obesity crisis?

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Mattieu Rouot puts forward the business case for combating obesity.

Obesity has become a prevalent issue globally. It has been reported that more than 2.1 billion people around the world - nearly 30% of the global population - are overweight or obese, with the figure set to rise to almost half of the world's adult population by 2030.

Obesity is responsible for about 5% of all deaths worldwide every year, and its global economic impact amounts to roughly $2 trillion annually, or 2.8% of global GDP.

This is not just a public health issue but businesses are also severely impacted by these health risks.

In addition to the increased direct costs in medical claims, businesses face a huge loss of productivity due to presenteeism and increased absenteeism. The indirect costs of poor health are estimated to be double those of direct medical costs.

In most cases, obesity often leads to other disease including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and musculoskeletal problems. The obesity epidemic heralds even more serious issues to come, as obese people develop even more serious health issues. By 2025, the world population of diabetics alone is expected to increase by 75%.

Proactive measures are needed to help prevent obesity and related illnesses from weighing down the global economy. Businesses can help address this challenge through employer-sponsored health and wellness programmes.

Small measures can have a huge impact on employee health; for example, just 30 minutes of continuous moderate physical activity per day decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer's, and cancer by 40%, while walking to work decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by 13%.

Moreover, employer-sponsored programmes are extremely effective compared to public prevention programmes generating 15-35% more participation and very high levels of satisfaction from participants.

These programmes improve the financial health of businesses as well. For every pound invested in health and wellness programmes, employers save £4 in medical costs, absenteeism, loss of productivity, and other indirect costs related to poor health.

Significantly, companies with a strong corporate health culture are shown to outperform the S&P 500 stock index by 3-5%.

Britain is a great case study of both the need of and effectiveness of employer sponsored health and wellness programmes. Today 25% of Britons are obese and 37% are overweight.

A recent survey announced by Kings College London revealed one in four teenagers is clinically obese by the age of 15 which will have a major impact later on in life.

The McKinsey Institute states that obesity is a greater burden on the UK's economy than armed violence and war costing the country nearly £47bn a year.

To address obesity and other health risks facing Britons, UK health insurer AXA PPP created an online platform which is used to identify and address health risks for individuals to reduce risk factors for developing chronic diseases.

It has helped approximately 2500 people and removed more than 5,000 health risks in the UK. By removing one health risk for one person on an average UK salary, employers gain approximately £600 per year.

The business case for health and wellness programmes is as undeniable as the challenges posed by the obesity crisis. Business wellness programmes are a win-win - trimming waistlines while improving the company's bottom line.

Mattieu Rouot is president of MAXIS GBN

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