Tom White: My business week

The Siemens chief executive says a healthy workforce makes business sense
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The UK has an obesity problem, Western Europe is trying to cope with an ageing workforce, and more and more people are living in cities. Companies clearly need to look at how they respond to this.

Fitness is a big issue — the three biggest killers in this country, heart attacks, strokes and cancer, have all been linked to an unhealthy lifestyle. A recent study of 1,000 business people showed that 29 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men did absolutely no exercise at all. Of those that did exercise, hardly any were actually meeting the recommended target of 30 minutes five times a week. That's terrible.

Companies don't need to be paternalistic, but at the same time it makes a lot of sense to encourage employees to exercise and eat well. In this way they will perform better and take fewer sick days. A lot of the benefits businesses can offer, such as gyms on site, preferential rates at local health clubs and healthy food in the canteen, actually turn out to be self-financing.

Likewise, the Government shouldn't be trying to force people to get fit, but it can help businesses to set up initiatives encouraging their employees to be healthier.

The business world is a competitive one, and employees are now looking for these sorts of services – if you want to recruit the best talent, you need to offer things like gym membership. People now schedule time to exercise in the same way that they would schedule a meeting.

I hope the public sector will follow the business lead in its approach to employee health and fitness, because it faces the same challenges to productivity caused by obesity.

Siemens is supporting Stroke for Stroke Week, a scheme to raise money for charity, open to anyone with access to a fixed rowing machine www.stroke.org.uk

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