Image: Flickr Image: Flickr

More than a third (34%) of UK workers claim their employers have directly contributed to higher levels of obesity, new research has revealed.

Longer working hours preventing exercise was cited by 59% as the main reason for this, according to the study of 1,197 workers by Willis PMI Group, part of Willis Towers Watson.

Almost half (48%) blamed a lack of exercise facilities and initiatives, while unhealthy vending machine or ‘tuck shop’ snacks (44%) and unhealthy canteen food (38%) were said to be the third and fourth biggest factors behind the assertion.

Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group, said: “The government estimates obesity contributes to the loss of 16 million certified incapacity days each year and this research suggests employers may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

“The findings call for businesses to review their existing workplace cultures and practices and, where appropriate, proactively adopt health and wellbeing initiatives.”

Younger workers were more critical of their employers than their older colleagues. Forty-two per cent of 18-34 year olds blamed their bosses for contributing to higher levels of obesity, compared with just 29% of 35-64 year olds.

The study revealed that only 15% of employers currently offer cut-price gym memberships, 13% offer on-site gym facilities, 10% offer fitness classes and just 6% offer dedicated weight-loss schemes.

Mr Blake added: "Support and education for employees to combat obesity can be relatively inexpensive to implement, but by encouraging staff to lead healthier lifestyles, businesses can help cut obesity-related illnesses and the associated business risks."