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Health chiefs tell employers to encourage lunchtime yoga and cycling to work

Employers should help fight obesity by telling staff to do lunchtime spin classes and take the stairs, health officials have said.

Workplaces should also hold stand-up meetings, give employees bikes for business travel and offer subsidised gym memberships, according to NHS watchdog NICE.

Offices were also told to put signs outside lifts warning people not to use them and distribute leaflets telling people to take the stairs.

However, critics said the new recommendations were ‘ridiculous’ and would be ‘ignored by the vast majority of workplaces’.

NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, said people's bosses should be part of the effort to get the nation to lose weight – almost two thirds of people in the UK are overweight (stock image)

NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, said people’s bosses should be part of the effort to get the nation to lose weight – almost two thirds of people in the UK are overweight (stock image)

The official guidance is part of a plan to combat Britain’s spiralling obesity crisis – with latest figures showing that two-thirds of adults are too fat, while one in five 11-year-olds are obese.

NICE said workplaces should all have ‘physical activity programmes’ and encourage their staff to walk or cycle to work.

They said offices should ‘highlight a lunchtime yoga or spin class at a local gym’ and ‘ensure that staircases are clearly signposted and attractive to use’.

The watchdog also encouraged parents to grant their children greater independence from a younger age so they walk, cycle or scooter to school.

‘Active travel to and from schools and early years settings is the easiest form of physical activity that can be incorporated into everyday life for children and young people,’ the guidelines said.

Experts said that increasing physical activity would help employers boost their staff’s mental and physical health, as well as reducing sick days.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE, said: ‘If the United Kingdom’s 5.7million small and medium sized businesses encouraged their workforce to be more active, they are more likely to reap the benefits of having engaged employees who are more productive and are less likely to take time off sick.

‘Simple things like providing secure bicycle storage, showers and changing facilities can go a long way to enabling people to cycle to work or to meetings.

‘As a society we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough. We need people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise. 

OBESITY ‘IS THE NEW SMOKING AND WILL SEND CANCER RATES ROCKETING’

NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, has said he expects obesity-related cancer cases to double by 2035 because so many people are fat.

In 2015 there were 22,800 cancer diagnoses linked to the patient’s weight and he expects this to rocket to 40,800 in just 16 years’ time.

‘While cancer survival is at a record high, many people don’t yet realise that obesity causes cancer,’ Mr Stevens warned in May.

‘On current trends, by 2030 we could see 100 new patients every day being diagnosed with obesity-related cancer.

‘So obesity is the new smoking, and if we continue to pile on the pounds, we’re heading for thousands more avoidable cancer deaths every year.’ 

Some 64 per cent of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, alongside almost a third of children.

As well as a raised risk of cancer, being fat also makes people more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint problems or have a stroke.

Harvard University expert Dr Jennifer Ligibel said: ‘Obesity is now one of the greatest challenges facing the world.

‘The US has higher levels of obesity but the UK is catching up. It is very troubling. 

‘We are making major advances in cancer therapies and treatment, but the risk is that obesity could undercut all of this.’

‘If they can do this during the working day, not only will they benefit, but so too will their employers and the NHS. It’s a win, win for everyone.’ 

However Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: ‘The vast majority of employers are going to find this ridiculous and ignore it.

‘The guidelines range from the trivial to the absurd and are the latest example of attempts at nanny state regulation. Telling people not to use the lift is just absurd.

‘Organisations like NICE should stick to their core job which is testing the efficacy of drugs, it is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money to issue this guidance.

‘Health officials should practice what they preach before nagging people to walk up the stairs – the boss of Public Health England takes the lift all the time.

‘Gym memberships are a middle class perk offered by health-conscious employees – they are not some sort of panacea.’ 

The health watchdog also encouraged schools to help children get active by organising bike and walk to work days and mapping safe routes to school.

The NHS says children aged five to 18 should do at least one hour of physical activity every day, but less than one in five meet this target.

One in five children are obese in Year Six, at 11, as well as almost one in 10 four year-olds when they start school.

More than a fifth of adult men and women are physically inactive, with 15million adults in the UK now obese. 

Experts have warned that soaring obesity levels are putting the NHS under severe strain.

The NICE guide also urges councils to appoint a ‘physical activity champion’ in their area to promote exercise by co-ordinate with different departments such as transport and leisure.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said: ‘Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges we face as a nation – it can leading to a string of serious illnesses, with the NHS all often left to pick up the pieces.

‘There needs to be concerted action taken by all parts of society to tackle this growing yet avoidable problem and it is right that employers should take these small, practical steps that allow people to stay fit and healthy as part of their everyday routine.’ 

Public Health Minister Seema Kennedy said: ‘It is vital that employers embrace prevention to ensure their staff stay fit and healthy. 

‘Having seen first-hand in my department the positive impact running clubs can have, I welcome the launch of the Quality Standard as another way to encourage communities to stay active.’ 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Exercise can have a hugely positive impact on our physical and mental health, so making it easier for people to be more active as part of their daily routine – both at work and in their leisure time – is key to helping patients live a long and healthy life.

‘This new quality standard from NICE offers useful advice for professionals and commissioners across society – and for employers, it includes pragmatic suggestions that can be tailored to workplaces of different sizes and with varying resources available. 

‘We would urge employers to seek to swiftly implement the recommendations in some capacity as ultimately, a healthy workforce will be a more productive, and hopefully happier one.’

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