Due to recent economic growth, the pursuit of a fulfilling career has become a reality for millions in Asia, and many jobs requiring high degrees of education and skill have been created. However, unintended consequences have ensued following the emergence of white-collar jobs in Asia. Asian adult populations increasingly spend less time being physically active. In fact, adults in Asian nations frequently work longer hours than adults in other nations.1-2
The increase of white-collar positions in Asia, combined with ever increasing demands for productivity, have played a significant role in contributing to the alarming prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in Asia.
It is short-sighted, however, to consider these problems as only problems for individuals. Loss of productivity stemming from medical leave, lower productivity from working while ill, workplace injuries, and medical expenses could all seriously diminish a company’s profits.
Therefore, it is very much in the interest of an employer to facilitate healthy behaviors because investing in the health of employees translates not only into financial gains, but also into a more appealing environment in which workers can thrive.
The following are important opportunities for promoting good health in the workplace:
1. Nutrition classes or counseling could be a valuable option in the work place. Workers can learn to choose healthier food options such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and minimize refined grains, including such food staples as white rice and noodles. One study found that nutrition education in the work place has been associated with such benefits as reductions in body weight, waist size, total cholesterol, and fasting glucose concentrations.3 Another study found nutritional counseling resulted in lower sodium intake and blood pressure.4 Knowing what’s healthy to eat is an important first step in helping to improve employee’s diets.
2. Increasing access to healthy foods at the work place gives employees an opportunity to put what they have learned about healthy eating into practice. These foods should be widely available, affordable, and attractively presented to encourage good habits. Studies have shown that combining dietary counseling along with increased access to healthy food options have provided many benefits to employees, including significant reductions in body weight.5,6
3. Provide exercise opportunities at work. Research has shown that small stints of physical activity can confer substantial benefits for heart health and for the reduction of stress.7 Furthermore, short periods of exercise reduce the risk of physical injury. These findings suggest that, when promoted strategically, short phases of physical activity would be feasible and appealing to sedentary individuals at the work place and provide significant health benefits.7 For one, employers can encourage employees to take the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
4. Encourage exercise outside of work. Employers can additionally cooperate with commercial fitness entities and offer discounts for gym memberships. They can also provide incentives to employees to try biking or walking to work whenever possible. A growing body of research suggests that physical activity also improves cognitive function, particularly frontal lobe-mediated cognitive processes, such as planning, scheduling, and working memory,8 all of which can help improve work performance.
5. Improve the work space. One effective intervention in a workplace in Malaysia included putting water coolers and weighing scales in the office.9 The former promoted drinking water instead of sugary drinks, and the latter provided encouragement for workers to maintain a healthy weight. These changes were part of an intervention program which helped to reduce serum cholesterol levels in the workforce.9
By incorporating the above recommendations, employers can make the workplace a healthier environment, which will improve the health of employees, encourage productivity, and be beneficial for all involved.