Health and Safety
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Improving the health of your workplace results in increased productivity

By Dr. Emily Lipinski, ND and Dr. Andreia Horta, ND

According to a report from the senate committee on social affairs, science and technology, in the past three to four decades, there has been a drastic increase in the proportion of overweight and obese Canadians. Nearly two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are obese or overweight.

Unfortunately, obesity costs Canada between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually in health care and lost productivity; the cost to Canadian employers is a staggering $1.3 billion per year, according to an article by Liz Scott in the Occupational Health Nurses Journal. Obese employees also spend about 35 per cent more on health services and 77 per cent more on medications than people of healthy weight.

Factors in weight gain

There are various reasons why the Canadian population is gaining weight. Government research shows that Canadians are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables, eating too many refined carbohydrates and not participating in enough physical activity.

However, there are other critical factors to weight gain aside from diet and exercise alone. Stress and sleep have long been speculated to contribute to weight gain and research is finally beginning to reveal truth in these claims.

A recent 2017 study shows people who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity. Scientists at University College London found that high levels of cortisol, a hormone that regulates the body’s response to stress, are correlated to weight. Individuals with elevated levels of this stress hormone had larger waist circumference measurements, were heavier and had a higher body mass index (BMI). Those classified as obese according to their BMI (greater than or equal to 30) or waist circumference (greater than or equal to 102cm in men, 88cm in women) had especially high levels of cortisol.

So what’s the cause of the elevated cortisol? Over 25 per cent of Canadians identify their life to be “very stressful.” Of these individuals, 60 per cent report work as their major source of stress. Overly stressed people have also been shown to have disrupted sleep patterns, says the American Psychological Association.

The importance of sleep

A growing body of research is pointing to a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh. Children and adults who get too little sleep tend to weigh more than those who get enough sleep. When people do not have enough sleep, several changes can happen, particularly in regards to appetite. A poor night’s sleep brings with it appetite increases, as well as cravings for junk foods, in particular. Additionally, tired individuals may be too fatigued to exercise.

To truly begin to tackle the obesity problem, the approach must be multifaceted. Employers should be investing in educating employees on effective stress management techniques, work-life balance practices and sleep hygiene. Simple techniques that can be incorporated into the workday, such as mindfulness, have been shown to reduce anxiety and mental stress. Sleep hygiene is a variety of habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Optimizing work-life balance can encourage these healthy habits, leading to a more productive workplace. 

Drs. Andreia Horta and Emily Lipinski are the founders of Infusion Health in Toronto.

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