Ireland’s Health Minister Leo Varadkar has announced a new Healthy Workplace initiative to get staff more active to combat the country’s obesity epidemic.
Last month, the World Health Organisation claimed that Ireland will be the most obese country in Europe by 2030 and Mr Varadkar is trying to combat the financial loss attributed to obesity-related sick days.
The qualified physician’s policy is targeting the public sector as they are the country’s largest employer, with 15 per cent of the State’s total workforce (288,561 people) to get people fit, improve diets & switch to sustainable travel.
They could include:
- Promoting ‘Active Travel’ – switching to smarter ways of travelling to and during work, by foot, by bike, by public transport or through car sharing;
- Setting up walking , running or other activity and exercise groups;
- Healthy eating options in staff canteens – making the ‘healthy choice the easy choice’;
- Smoking cessation programmes and making campuses smoke free zones;
- Supporting positive mental health and well-being by encouraging employees to deal with stress, personal difficulties and to seek help when necessary.
“It’s well established that a healthy workforce is a happier one with low levels of sick leave and greater productivity. So this approach makes pure business sense too for the public and private sectors,” Minister Varadkar said.
Last summer the Irish Times analysed Government documents which highlighted ‘unsustainable’ sick leave which was costing the State about €430 million (£305m).
“We are putting this on a statutory basis to send a clear message that we mean business in improving the nation’s health. A similar approach was taken with health and safety statements years ago which have helped to reduce dramatically the rates of workplace injuries and deaths,” he continued.
Employers across the public sector will develop ‘healthy workplace’ policies to support the health and well-being of their employees. This is Minister Varadkar’s third initiative in recent weeks designed to improve the nation’s health, following on from Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol and calorie counts for menus.
“The Irish Health Service spends billions each year on promoting, protecting and restoring people’s health and wellbeing. All of this funding is essential but we could target it so much more effectively by keeping people healthy, happy and out of hospital,” Minister Varadkar said.
“Under the Healthy Workplace initiative, each public sector employer will develop a Healthy Workplace initiative. If we can persuade more of them to get healthy, then staff are likely to be happier, and less likely to need medical help.
“There is a big role for the private sector here as well. Many private companies have led the way with their own workplace policies on car sharing or fitness clubs.
“The World Health Organisation says that workplace health programmes are one of the best ways to prevent lifestyle diseases, and improve mental health. Any costs associated with the measure should be minimal and will be recouped many times over by the benefits of a healthier workforce.”