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Home » Future of work » The importance of personal health risks

Dr Pamela Gellatly, MSc OHS, CMIOSH, MSc ENS. PhD.

CEO, Healthcare rm

Why do we continue to ignore the personal health risks that affect our employees which are the real reason for absence, presenteeism and increased cost of ill health?

Published data has clearly identified that people with underlying age and health risk factors are more vulnerable to COVID-19, yet these risk factors are not new or unusual.

A century of ignorance

If we look back to Eugene Sandow, the physician to King George V in 1920. He described the menace of the nation’s physical deterioration stating: “Where war has killed millions, disease is killing tens of millions. Life is movement. Once you stop moving you are dead.”

His solutions included:

  • Exercise – an alternative to medicine, preferably in the open air
  • Heavy lifting
  • Weight maintenance
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep

Fast track to 2020

Interestingly, our research (derived from over 56,000 assessments) has shown that there is very little difference between the underlying risk factors identified by Eugene Sandow 100 years ago to those which emerge across numerous ill health conditions. Some of the key findings include:

  • Only 8% of those with mental ill health and 11% of those with musculoskeletal disorders were normal weight and active.
  • Minor illnesses showed similar trends. The data also suggested that the higher the excess weight and the lower the levels of activity, the higher the incidence rate of conditions such as anxiety, depression, low back pain and lower limb problems.
  • Less than six hours sleep a night and poor lifestyle behaviours were a common underlying factor.
  • Whilst work is often considered to be the cause of ill health, it only accounts for circa 4%. In fact, life factors and how we look after ourselves are the real issue.

Our national health will only improve if we all work together to achieve this goal and be less vulnerable to the next pandemic should it arise.

Looking to the next 100 years

It is imperative that the future of health focusses on assessing and managing these underlying risk factors. Despite our data showing that underlying risk factors are applicable in circa 80% of ill health cases and can often be resolved without the need for a clinical intervention, these are rarely considered.

In cases where clinical treatment is necessary, the management of these risks prior, during and post treatment can significantly improve a patient’s outcome. Using DNA and epigenetics can ensure that interventions are tailored to the needs of each individual, achieving optimal results.

As employers, we should measure outcomes and stop providing benefits that do not deliver successful results for employees or the business. Our national health will only improve if we all work together to achieve this goal and be ready for the next pandemic.

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