12:56 pm, Friday 23 January, 2009
There’s a new culprit in the battle of the bulge: your job.
Workers in almost every sector are spilling out of their seats.
Seventy-six per cent of Mining Workers, 63 per cent of Transport Workers and 60 per cent of managers are overweight, according to Australian Bureau Of Statistics Data.
In one case, a miner, who weighed in at a hefty 150kg, was removed from a remote site for fear he would have a heart attack. He was too fat to be airlifted by helicopter.
High-stress jobs like law, finance or call centres now boast staggering obesity problems as staff turn to comfort-eating, entertain clients with fancy dinners and alcohol – and find it impossible to fit a gym session into their 12-hour days.
Geeks aren’t off the hook either, says Nathan Maurice, whose Oz Bootcamp runs corporate fitness programs.
“Any occupation where people are using computers, for example web programming, some of those people are really bad,” he says.
“Not to generalise, but they are geeky and they will go home and get on the computer. You get 23 year olds who have been living that lifestyle and they are less fit than a 60 year old who is active.”
Levels of obesity vary by industry or occupation, with stressful, sedentary jobs worst for the waistline.
“Nine times out of ten, obesity is the key problem we have in a workplace,” says Kristina Dalgleish, director of Health at Work, which runs corporate weight loss programs, healthy workplace cooking classes and health audits of canteens.
“The mining industry has a huge obesity problem, because they work on site, they get fed on site and there’s no portion control.
“They get a hot meal for breakfast, lunch, dinner and then desert.”
She worked with the miner who was removed him from the remote mine, and put him on a strict diet, where he shed 38kg.
“That was a health and safety issue,” she says. “Had he had a heart attack they couldn’t have air-lifted him out, because he wouldn’t have fit on the helicopter tray. His stomach hit his knee, that’s no exaggeration.”
Dietitian Shivaun Conn has trouble picking out the most overweight industries.
“They’re all bad,” says Ms Conn, who does health audits of corporate canteens for Corporate Bodies International.
Rural blue collar workers and truckies often have the worst health thanks to regular meals at canteens full of fry-ups and hot chips.
In some transport companies she’s worked with, almost everyone in the workplace is overweight or obese.
“Transport companies and truck drivers, they have very high levels of obesity, so if the company wants to put all their ‘high-risks’ into our program, it’s virtually all their workers,” she says.
Vending machines, biscuits and soft drink conspire against white-collar workers trying to keep trim.
“In the city, white collar workers have more access to healthy food but then you see biscuits in the lunch room, or it’s somebody’s birthday or there’s food on the table at meetings, so it’s the unhealthy snacking in the white collar jobs,” Ms Conn says.
Faced with overweight workers who cost billions in injuries, absenteeism or lost productivity from “presenteeism” – where staff are at work, but doing very little- companies are now taking steps to get their staff fit, in a bid to boost the bottom line and trim waistlines.
Employees at one natural gas and oil company, lost a total of 400kg in a ‘The Biggest Loser-style’ competition.
Other companies invite weight loss experts into the workplace. Weight Watchers works with 450 companies, including Qantas, Woolworths and the Tax Office, and says demand for workplace meetings increased 80 per cent last year.
Working in an office where everyone is trying to slim down helps avoid temptations and pick up healthy habits, says HR assistant Emma Stergio, who lost 12kg attending workplace Weight Watchers meetings.
“You can support each other,” said Ms Stergio, whose colleagues share tips on healthy eating, attends weekly weigh-ins and sometimes go for walks together.
Finance types, call centre staff and IT workers are frequent bootcamp participants, including one trader whose company paid for a few sessions a week to keep him fit and working.
The experts all have success stories of flabby workers turned fit.
One finance worker who attended Mr Maurice’s bootcamp was so inspired she’s now a personal trainer teaching her own classes, while one of Ms Conn’s clients lost 10 kilos and shocked his doctor by reversing his borderline diabetes.
Even the 150kg miner who had to be removed from the site and put on a diet lost 38kg, although he couldn’t cure all his vices.
“He still smokes,” says Ms Dalgliesh.
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