Workplace wellness programs have been growing steadily in the US for the past decade. In Europe countries like Germany may be seen as more progressive but a recent set of recommendations to the UK government could see similar initiatives being created by UK companies.
Under the new plans the National Health Service aims to tackle the rising obesity crisis through various incentives including being paid to lose weight with cash rewards or shopping vouchers. Depending on the weight loss rewards could be higher or lower although the exact details are still unclear and will only apply to tax paying employees.
Organisations would be encouraged to participate through tax breaks and subsidies on weight loss programs. Mr Simon Stevens the chief executive of NHS England has personal experience of workplace wellness schemes and stated they have been largely ignored in the UK despite their success internationally.
After personally losing nearly three stone by participating in a weight-loss program at his previous job for the U.S. insurance firm United Healthcare Mr.Stevens realizes the benefits first hand.
The report published by the NHS entitled the Five Year Forward View stated: ‘Put bluntly, as the nation’s waistline keeps piling on the pounds, we’re piling on billions of pounds in future taxes just to pay for preventable illnesses.’
With £20 billion a year lost due to absenteeism there certainly is a lot of scope for the UK to foster a better culture of corporate employee health. The proposals were announced as part of a greater overhaul of the healthcare system in England due for the next parliament. It will be interesting to see the level of adoption of such programs and if the government truly stands behind these proposals.
Starting with the NHS itself where nearly half its 1.3 million staff are overweight, setting a clear precedent will be an important signal that Mr.Stevens and the NHS intend to tackle the matter head on.
This is an important acknowledgment that workplace wellness programs are clearly being seen as part of a greater societal solution and one that can improve the lives of many.
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