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NICE calls for NHS staff to become active to cut obesity


Nurses and other healthcare staff must be encouraged to become active to fight against the “obesity crisis”, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has said, as part of new guidance that suggests employers should subsidise gym memberships and offer yoga during lunch breaks.

NICE has today published a quality standard on encouraging physical activity in the community, including in the workplace.

“As a society we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough” 

Gillian Leng

According to figures from NHS Digital, 10,660 hospital admissions in 2017-18 were directly attributable to obesity and 29% of adults are were classified as obese.

To help address the issue, the institute has suggested that employers should produce physical activity programmes for the workplace and offer subsidised gym memberships.

Employers should also highlight lunchtime activities at a local gym, such as yoga or spin classes, and provide staff with information about safe active travel routes to and from work, NICE urged.

It also noted that by encouraging staff to use the stairs instead of a lift would also help individuals to become more active.

One of the statements under the standard suggests that local authorities and healthcare commissioning groups should have “senior level physical activity champions” who would be responsible for developing and implanting local strategies, policies and plans.

“It is vital that employers embrace prevention to ensure their staff stay fit and healthy”

Seema Kennedy

The institute states that such champions should ensure that “physical activity is embedded across all clinical pathways”.

Another statement suggested that workplaces have a physical activity programme to encourage employees to become more active.

The institute argued that having such programmes in the workplace could help to “reduce staff absenteeism levels, increase staff satisfaction and improve the workplace environment”.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that more than 131 million working days were lost to sickness in 2017, including 13 million working days lost to stress, depression or anxiety.

NICE deputy chief executive and director of health and social care, Professor Gillian Leng, said: “If the UK’s 5.7 million 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,” she said. “As a society we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough.


Gillian Leng

“We need people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise. 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,” added Professor Leng.

Public health minister Seema Kennedy said the government has a “world leading plan to tackle obesity with prevention at its core”.

She said that later this summer, the government will be setting out “further action” on obesity and physical activity via a prevention green paper.

“It is vital that employers embrace prevention to ensure their staff stay fit and healthy,” said Ms Kennedy. “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.”

The quality standard is aimed at healthcare commissioners, service providers, health and public health practitioners, employers, schools, voluntary and community sector and the public. Statements in it include:

  • Local authorities and healthcare commissioning groups have a senior level physical activity champions who are responsible for developing and implementing local strategies, policies and plans
  • Local authorities involve community members in designing and managing public open spaces
  • Local authorities prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and people who use public transport when developing and maintaining connected travel routes
  • Schools and early years settings have active travel plans that are monitored and updated annually



Readers' comments (4)

  • When the person telling patients that they need to loose weight before they are fit for surgery and how the fact they are clinicaly classed as morbidly obese with the health problems associated is actually heavier than they are the message loses credibility somewhat.
    It would be great if we got a long enough break to be able to take advantage of taking exercise but as we rarely get time to eat thats a non starter as well.

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  • While it's true that raising activity levels does have some impact on body weight, the biggest factor by far affecting it is how much and what types of food is consumed.
    The message that a client is obese remains valid, whether or not the health professional giving the message happens to be obese also.

    PS: To Anonymous (7 June 0842); The word Loose is an adjective, not a verb. The verb you want is lose.

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  • So they want to flog us to death on shift being short staffed. There is barely enough time to eat and drink on shift let a lone leave the building and get back in time.
    It would be much better to provide a healthy selection of food/snacks/time to drink enough fluids and an uninterrupted break !
    I personally would bike to work if there was the use of showers, lockers and somewhere to dry my hair. But there are none of these in my work place. They removed the one shower shared between 6 wards three years ago. Which was not a pleasant place anyway. On a 12.5 hour physically mentally draining social sort out dementia ward there is no extra energy spare !!! We give our all.

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  • You can’t do much yoga or spinning in the half hour lunch break that you are lucky to get!

    The reason why NHS staff are putting on weight is because they do not get their breaks and go too long without food - the body goes into starvation mode and anything eaten gets stoned as fat. Also shift work means you are not eating early enough in the evening as you are getting home so late. High stress also leads to weight gain due to the amount of cortisol produced.

    I think NICE maybe needs to look at the cause of the problem- ie not getting proper breaks/going too long without breaks and high stress leading to high cortisol levels, which lead to weight gain. It comes down to inadequate staffing levels - even when you are supposedly fully staffed there are not enough staff - never mind when there are gaps in staffing. Nice idea going to a yoga class/spinning class in your half hour lunch break but clearly the people at NICE need to go into hospitals and talk to staff a little more! Obesity in the NHS is not due to staff inactivity. It is due to being in starvation mode, high cortisol due to stress and eating at the wrong times.

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