Executive health: The fight against poor health

The world is enlisting businesses to help fight against poor health. It’s common sense given the workplace is where we spend half our waking hours. It’s where we make half our decisions on what we eat, drink and how active we are. But is common sense that common?
It’s massive fight ahead. At present the cost is spiralling. The ugly truth is that chronic diseases – diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease and more – account for over 80 percent of all deaths in New Zealand and take up around 70 percent of our public health sector spend, according to the National Health Committee.
Prevention is always better than cure. Personal responsibility can do with helping hand from business.
The Australians think so, having established the National Partnership on Preventative Health (NPAPH) in 2008. This provides over $900 million to projects aimed at laying the foundations for healthy behaviours in the daily lives of Australians.
One example of this is the Australian Measure Up campaign, which aims to raise appreciation among the 25-60 age group through an interactive website. Measure Up gives people an understanding of why they need to change their lifestyles, what to do and how to do it.
Key to Measure Up’s success has been informing people how easily they can assess their risk by simply measuring their waist circumference. For most people, waist measurement higher than the following is associated with increased risk of chronic disease – Men: >94 centimetres; Women: >80cms. waist measurement for men of more than 102cms, and women of more than 88cms is associated with greatly increased risk.
The website provides tools and advice on diet, exercise and success stories as well as resources for employers to launch their own workplace initiatives.
Southern Cross – along with large number of employers – has been travelling down this path for the last few years. Staff have regular access to nutritional advice, exercise classes including hip-hop, team events such as Round the Bays and we’re even trialling meditation course. Participation rates are high and an internal survey last year showed that almost 90 percent of staff felt that the organisation cared about their wellbeing.
Southern Cross has also enlisted the support of Olympic gold medallist Lisa Carrington to inspire New Zealanders to embrace healthier lifestyle through Facebook page, Let’s Get Healthier You.
“It’s about trying to change people’s behaviours even if it’s just walking to work or taking the stairs – every little change can add up, and if we change just one person then we are all better off,” says Carrington.
We have long been promoting the benefits of healthy lifestyle in the belief that working to protect and enhance the health of all New Zealanders is fundamental to the wellbeing of society. This is topic that Southern Cross together with Business NZ will be firmly pushing this year.
Further reading:
• southerncross.co.nz/about-the-group/health-resources.aspx
• healthyworkers.gov.au
• https://www.facebook.com/letsgetahealthieryou M

Arguing the case for workplace wellness
• The working population is large and relatively stable (over two-thirds of adult New Zealanders are in paid work so large proportion of the population can be reached)
• People of working age can be reached before disease develops
• Barriers to participation such as cost, time and travel are low
• Established channels of communication already exist with employees
• The setting is familiar and offers flexibility
• There is scope for peer support
• The ability to influence the workplace environment can be significant.
(Novak, Bullen, Howden-Chapman, & Thornley, 2007)

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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