New data: Australian workforce overwhelmed by preventable health risks

New findings released by The Workplace Health Association of Australia (WHAA) show that preventable health risks are widespread across all occupational sectors with the average employee exhibiting four risk factors. Physical inactivity and stress are the most likely risks to be found.

The report Health Profile of Australian Employees, produced in conjunction with the University of Wollongong, examined the health characteristics of nearly 30,000 Australian workers gathered from workplace health assessments over the past decade.

The risk factors observed have been associated with chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and also mental illness.

The report found that 65% of employees reported moderate to high stress levels, and 41% had psychological distress levels considered to be “at-risk”.

Women were at greater likelihood of experiencing high psychological distress than men.

The report found that the majority of the workforce is not performing sufficient exercise to prevent health risks. Half the participants were found to be physically inactive.

Further low scores in risk categories associated with low physical activity were reported – two out of every three were overweight or obese (40.3% and 20.2%, respectively). Almost 1 in 8 (12.0%) workers had high blood pressure and nearly a quarter (23.8%) had high cholesterol. Men were more likely to have greater rates of high blood pressure/hypertension, BMI and waist circumference.

Excessive alcohol consumption remains an enduring risk factor. 11% of participants consumed alcohol at risky levels, with males three times more likely to exceed the current alcohol guidelines – 18.2% for males compared with 5.7% for females. Despite legal requirements for smoke free workplaces, 11.5% of participants reported to be daily smokers.

Dr John Lang, CEO of the Workplace Health Association of Australia, says the findings are a cause of concern:

“This is an alarming insight into the poor levels of health experienced by most Australian workers. It highlights the urgency to deliver preventative actions in the workplace.”

Employees participating in company sponsored health promotion programs showed some significant improvements in overweight/obesity (BMI) and high cholesterol between health checks. Health interventions would typically be performed in group; one on one; telephone or online settings.

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