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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Should vending machines be banned?

Last week I consulted a female professional for weight loss. My client works 12+ hour days, largely desk bound in a role she studied for more than 5 years at university to be able to do at an international firm. Since beginning work in this industry more than ten years ago, my client has gained more than 20kg. Daily life consists of dragging herself out of bed in order to get to work as early as she can, hour after hour spent at a desk or in meetings, grabbing food on the run. She is lucky to leave the office by 8pm, and dinner is generally a takeout meal before she collapses into bed 6 or so hours before she does it all again. My client makes great money but she eats poorly, feels dreadful, has little time to exercise and has not seen the sun for some time.

Unfortunately this story is not so uncommon – for men and women alike trying to make it in the corporate world, lives like these are becoming the norm and health as a result is suffering long term. The suggestions in today’s media to ban vending machines from workplaces in order to help to solve the obesity crisis amongst Australian adults simplify a much larger issue - a larger issue that has seen our work taking precedence over health, welling and ultimately our lives.

If workplaces continue to expect and demand long working hours, there is a reciprocal requirement that they in turn provide support for the health of their staff members. Healthy food must be provided in house, exercise classes, walking groups and an on site gyms mandatory and health checks freely available in order for staff members to monitor their weight, blood pressure and heart disease risk factors routinely as to protect their health long term. Most importantly, middle level management who deal with the staff on a daily basis must be supportive of these initiatives. Leaving the office for fresh air, flexible working hours and taking time out to eat a nutritionally balanced lunch should be encouraged, not looked upon with disdain and judgment.

One of the biggest issues we face in attempting to enforce such positive health initiatives in private industry is that employees have been overworked with few benefits for such a long time, that such conditions are considered the norm. Few large companies can honestly say that they provide a “healthy” work environment, instead doing the bare minimum to tick an OH&S box that they are doing “something”, no matter how insufficient the “something” may be. A lecture once a year on eating healthy is nothing compared to an on site cafĂ© that actually proves the food at cost.

Is it an employer’s job to look after the health of their staff? Absolutely, if the employer is demanding extreme work hours which place unreasonable time demands on their staff. It is a cop out to claim that large companies are struggling – a brief look at the profit margins of some of our largest employers of Australians around the country record billion dollar profits year after year, so surely a little more investment in the staff is not an unreasonable request? Healthy staff means happy staff which in turn means productive staff; it is as simple as that and the vending machine is just the beginning