Obesity in Australia
This paper deals with the problem of obesity in Australia, which has been increasing through years and has a lot of negative impacts, notably not only on health, but also on economy and social sphere. The purpose of this study is to analyse opinions of the employers and employees about where the responsibility for addressing obesity lies and what obesity-related programs are expected to offer and are really offered in companies. The paper contains the statement of the obesity problem, reviewing of some previous researches, the evaluation of necessary special anti-obese measures in firms, significance of its importance, and their analysis based on data taken from the interviews with employers and employees of different age working in 500 different companies. The results of the study show that answers to research questions among employers and employees vary, and this stresses the importance of further intensive studies of the obesity problem, especially at the government level.
Keywords: obesity, firms, government, Australia
Obesity in Australia has been an important problem for years. The results of the National Health Survey of 2004-2005 showed that about 62% of Australian population suffer from either obese or overweight (2005, pp. 50); in 2014-2015 this index became 70,8% among men and 56,3% among women (NHS, 2015, pp. 25-27). These numbers has highly increased from 1995, when the average per cent of obese people was 56,8, and are not getting lower. The problem of obesity is examined both on the government and population levels. It is also examined in firms; work and career are an integral part of every person’s life. But, according to employers, where exactly does responsibility for addressing obesity lie? What obesity-related programs do employers offer their workers? And what obesity-related programs do workers expect their employers to offer? This paper will try to find answers to these questions.
The problem of obesity has been significant through ages. Obesity causes a lot of negative effects on society, economy, and people’s health. It is a risk of acquisition of such long-term health conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease etc. According to the National Health Survey of 2001, there were lost more than four million days from workplaces in Australia (The Obesity Working Group, 2009, p. 12). Increased liability to diseases among obese people results in their inability to perform labour; they are “not in the labour force” more often than non-obese ones (The Obesity Working Group, 2009, p. 12). The onset of obesity has a number of reasons including unhealthy diet, lack of activities, and genetics (Crowle, 2010, pp. 35-37). Obesity is mostly widespread among adults, but children are amenable to it too. According to statistics, one in every four children has obese or overweight (The Obesity Working Group, 2009, p. 12). Various studies show different reasons of children’s obesity. Champion discovered that obese or overweight children unexpectedly live in families where mothers abide less lenient practices and beliefs, than mothers in other ones (Champion, 2010, p. 24). It may be connected with the fact that over-control of child diet does not allow him or her to appropriately develop self-regulation. However, the study was carried out among families of 300 children, so he also noticed that the results could be connected with the limitation of sample group size (Champion, 2010, p. 24). Brown held a research and found the connection between time of maternal work and risk of obesity among children. In his work he stated that mothers’ longer work hours increase risks for children’s overweight at the age of 4-5 years, but does not predict children’s weight in two years (Brown et al., 2010, p. 1822). Also he writes, “compared to children of mothers who either worked full-time or were not in the work force, 4-5 year old children whose mothers worked part-time had lower levels of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, both concurrently and again two years later” (Brown et al., 2010, p. 1822). Children who get attention from their mothers are more likely to have normal weight; they spend less time in front of television eating snacks and being inactive. However, the fact children of non-working mothers have similar risks of obesity, as children of full-employment mothers, is not that clear. This result of Brown’s studies could correlate with the result of Champion’s studies mentioned before. Excessive control of child’s diet is as harmful as its absence.
It is also worth noting that obesity has a negative impact on Australian economy. According to Colagiuri, in 2005 the total cost of BMI-defined obesity was more than $8 billion excluding overweight and about $21 billion including it (Colagiuri et al., p. 262). In addition, obesity is associated with government subsidies and other costs connected with early retirement, different diseases, loss of productivity, and premature death. Colagiuri states, “the average annual cost of government subsidies for the overweight and obese was $3917 per person, with a total annual cost of $35.6 billion” (Colagiuri et al., p. 263). The total cost resulted in more than $56 billion. It becomes obvious that if obesity in Australia do not stop increasing, losses of the government will become higher and higher. In order to solve the problem of obesity, the government should intervene into the social and health politics and assume additional special measures. However, not only the government should deal with it, but also people themselves.
This paper aims to study the level of anti-obesity measures in firms in opinion of employers and employees and where, for employers, the responsibility for dealing with obesity lies. The research is based on previous works stated negative connections between obese people and their productivity, work limitations and mating losses (Overweight and obesity, 2008; Obesity and workplace absenteeism, 2005). Obesity needs special measures, and this paper deals with the problem of its implementation provided by companies in particular.
Data were drawn from the interviews with head of human resources from 500 randomly selected companies with 50 or more workers and interviews with 1,350 randomly selected workers who were:
a) 18–64 years of age;
b) employed either full or part time;
c) employed by a company with fifty or more employees.
The results of the survey are shown in Figures 1, 2, and 3.
Figure 1: Percentage Of Firms Reporting That Various Entitles Have A Major Role To Play In Addressing Obesity, On A Scale Of 1 To 10, 2007
Figure 2: Percentage Of Firms Offering At Least Some Employees Various Obesity-Related Services Or Benefits, Excluding Any That Health Plans Might Offer, By Firm Size, 2007
Figure 3: Percentage of Workers Who Think That Various Services Should Be Covered For Everyone In Firm, Even If The Amount They Have To Pay For Health Insurance Increases Slightly, By Body Mass Index (BMI), 2008
Figure 1 shows that more than 50% of individuals agree that different entitles play the main role in addressing obesity, while among employers this per cent is the lowest and draws about 1-2% only. The importance of entitles is also stressed by about 70% of health insurers and 90% of physicians. However, employers mostly appraise this factor as the one of middle significance, while the government has the highest percentage of recognizing it non-important at all.
According to Figure 2, more than 40% of jumbo firms provide various additional obesity-related services, and this rate is much higher than the rate of all firms in general, which means that smaller firms offer really little amount of anti-obese benefits for their employees.
In Figure 3 it is seen that the desire to see different services is mostly strong among people with overweight and obese BMI, and the most popular service is counseling for weight management, while the less preferable one is providing of surgeries.
According to the results, the role of entitles in addressing obesity evaluates differently among different structures. The highest per cent of its importance among individuals can be possibly explained by the fact that additional entitles influence not only on obesity, but also on lots of other things, so it is naturally to want them for employees and at the same time from the employers and government’s opinion it is not very desirable or should be limited. However, the importance of entitles is confirmed by high percentage of health insurers and physicians, so it cannot be just ignored.
Jumbo firms, the ones that have more than 5000 employees, offer much more anti-obese services in comparison with all firms in general. From this it becomes clear that firms with less than 5000 employees offer little amount of obesity-related services and benefits. It can be possibly explained by the fact that jumbo firms have much higher backing and better structures; they are prestigious and represent the country on the international level. Assuming obesity-related measures becomes a part of a firm’s policy. However, it is also worth noting that, according to studies, Australia has one of the longest working hours in the world; about 65% of employees are liable to high stresses and, hence, "was seeing a 2.4% reduction in productivity, on average, per risk factor" (Porter, 2015). It is especially indicative for jumbo firms, and providing obesity-related services and benefits is a way of work-life balance. Employees participating in health programs offered by employers show significant improvement in BMI and cholesterol level, become more productive and less amenable to diseases (WHAA, 2015).
Obesity is a real problem for suffering people, so naturally they are the ones who desire anti-obese measures mostly. But lots of them just do not know how to keep a healthy diet, so they are needed in additional help. According to previous studies, 28% of obese employees attend special health consultations (Obesity and workplace absenteeism, 2005, p. 7). However, some of them might not afford such consultations due to lack of time, money, or just simple laziness. It explains the domination of counseling for weight management. At the same time, surgeries are the most dangerous measure among presented ones, so they have the least popularity.
This research is limited by the number of companies (500), its size of more than 50 employees, and the amount of questioned employees per one company (2-3). In order to specify the statistics and to wide it there are needs in additional researches including small companies with less than 50 people and increasing the number of examined employees per one company in dependency of its size.
The Obesity Working Group, 2009. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. Technical Report No 1. Obesity in Australia: a need for urgent reaction. Including addendum for October 2008 to June 2009. [PDF] Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/content/E233F8695823F16CCA2574DD00818E64/$File/obesity-jul09.pdf [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2005. Obesity and workplace absenteeism among older Australians. Bulletin, 31, pp. 1-16.
Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2008. Overweight and obesity: Implications for workplace health and safety and workers’ compensation. [PDF] Available at: http://apo.org.au/files/Resource/overweight_and_obesity.pdf. [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Brown, J. E. et al., 2010. Do working mothers raise couch potato kids? Maternal employment and children's lifestyle behaviours and weight in early childhood. Social Science & Medicine, 70, pp. 1816-1824.
Champion S., Giles L. C. and Moore V. M., 2010. Parenting beliefs and practices contributing to overweight & obesity in children. Australian Epidemiologist, 17(1), pp. 21-25.
Colagiuri S. et al., 2010. The cost of overweight and obesity in Australia. MJA, 192(5), pp. 260-264.
Crowle J., and Turner E., 2010. Childhood Obesity: An Economic Perspective. [PDF] Available at: http://www.pc.gov.au/research/supporting/childhood-obesity/childhood-obesity.pdf [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Kalish D. W., 2015. National Health Survey (NHS). First results. Australia 2014-2015. Australian Bureau of Statistics. [PDF] Available at: http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/CDA852A349B4CEE6CA257F150009FC53/$File/national%20health%20survey%20first%20results,%202014-15.pdf. [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Porter, S., 2015. Australia's workers stressed and overweight, says study. BBC News, Singapore. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33105560. [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Trewin D., 2005. National Health Survey (NHS): Summary of results. Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics. [PDF] Available at: http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/Subscriber.Nsf/0/3b1917236618a042ca25711f00185526/$File/43640_2004-05.Pdf. [Accessed 27th December 2015].
Work Health Association Australia (WHAA), 2015. New data: Australian workforce overwhelmed by preventable health risks. [PDF] Available at: http://www.workplacehealth.org.au/_literature_187196/WHAA_Press_Release_-_Health_Profile_of_Australian_Employees. [Accessed 27th December 2015].