Fat chance: Reducing the risks of obesity and coronavirus in the workplace

As coronavirus has become a part of our new daily reality, we must continually adapt in all aspects of life whilst searching for answers on the disease.

Though we are still yet to have any definitive conclusions as to the origin, nature and workings of coronavirus, we are by now fully aware of its impact on both a societal and personal level.

Due to the nascent nature of the disease, research remains in the rudimentary stages, however we do know that there is enough research to indicate a strong correlation between obesity and the likelihood of needing intensive care once contracting Covid-19

With this premise we can start to glean a greater understanding of this devastating disease, but what do we know so far about their correlation? And in turn to what extent does obesity impact businesses? Here’s what you need to know about the connection between the two and the steps we can take to safeguard ourselves and our businesses during this time…

The facts about the correlation between obesity and Covid-19

As to be expected there has been a plethora of research into the as-it-stands mysterious disease.

Last week saw the publication of the first UK study of the features of hospitalised Covid-19 patients. Academics from Liverpool University studied 16,749 patients and found that for those who were obese, their risks of needing additional support, ventilation or ultimately dying was greater than for people with known cardiovascular disease, diabetes or those that smoke.

The mortality rate was reported as 37%. In other words, for those individuals, Covid-19 is as deadly as Ebola

As if that’s not bad enough, there are clear flaws in the method adopted, as the means of determining obesity were based merely on a visual assessment of the patient and not by weighing them or calculating their BMI. Since we are notoriously poor at judging someone’s weight, there’s likely to have been a significant underestimation of the reality.

However, Liverpool University’s general findings were corroborated by Glasgow University who found that being obese doubles the risk of needing hospital treatment for coronavirus.

Dr. Paul Welsh, who lead the team, confirmed that “we’ve seen in numerous different studies that obese patients tend to progress in a worse way. People with obesity are more likely to end up in hospital with Covid.”

And indeed, across the pond research has indicated the same connection between obesity and a severe reaction to coronavirus.

Brown University found that patients with a BMI over 35 were more likely to go into intensive care, and that those with a BMI over 30 when combined with a history of heart disease were more likely to need ventilation as well. 

Likewise, a University of Texas report corroborated this research when it found that fat cells of patients with obesity or type 2 diabetes increase production of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) which are the proteins that the new coronavirus latches on to in the body, especially in the lungs of infected people.

Another key danger of being overweight is that excess fat is stored around and within the body’s vital organs, inhibiting some of their normal functions and causing increased inflammation within the body. 

Put in layman terms, storing fat in organs where it doesn’t belong in the body causes inflammation. When the body is pushed into an inflammatory state like this it becomes more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by a COVID-19 infection. This inflammatory storm causes the immune system to damage essential organs like the heart and kidneys. This is likely to be a big part of the reason this disease is hurting the overweight so much more than the fit.

Why is obesity a problem when it comes to business?

With nearly 70% of the UK’s population overweight and more than 30% of those over 30 years old obese, virtually all businesses employ a workforce with significantly increased risks due to obesity. Responsible employers can begin to address this by encouraging their people to become fitter and healthier and therefore fare better should they contract the Coronavirus.

As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity Vice-Chair Baroness Jenkin said: 

“If we all live by the five rules of following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol too much, not smoking, and taking daily exercise, we will be more able to fight off this disease if it comes for us regardless of age. We could be using the time now to prepare our bodies for that by watching what we eat and keeping moving.”

And the good news is that this will also have the additional benefit of improving employees’ mental health in the process. 

Whilst it’s impossible to stop people worrying about themselves and their loved ones at this time, the science is very clear: those that sleep well, exercise regularly, eat healthily and avoid excessive alcohol all have stronger personal resilience and better mental health than those that do not. It will also give people a powerful sense of control of their fate and direct anxiety towards constructive actions.

Put frankly, good physical health leads to measurable improvements in mental health and personal performance, as well as productivity at work

What can businesses do moving forward?

As established, it’s of pivotal importance that businesses invest in the health of their employees. Not only because as a consequence of Coronavirus there will be a more widespread emphasis on health (leading to more pressure and expectation from the workforce), but also because by ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, it safeguards the company and its greater concerns including productivity and reduced absenteeism.

With this premise in place, we now need to look towards practical steps to guaranteeing its implementation. 

As lockdown starts to be relaxed, businesses face the challenge of retuning our economy back to some semblance of normality as soon as possible. At the same time, the Government has called on employers to monitor the mental and physical health of their staff in order to avoid a second wave of infections and the need for further lockdown.

This is where CorLife can radically help

Our programme delivers an innovative solution delivered remotely to ensure any business can develop and sustain a resilient workforce. Already being used by a number of the UK’s leading businesses including BP, Ineos, RBS and Spirit Energy, CorLife not only provides through the screening and monitoring of mental and physical health, but also by supporting and coaching individuals to improve their personal resilience and fortitude. 

The devastating impact of Covid19 on all aspects of society means there’s no time to waste. 

It is imperative that every business takes proactive action to improve the physical and mental health of their employees. Only by doing this will they start to function safely again with a healthier, more resilient and engaged workforce, which in the process will yield greater productivity.