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The Average Australian Employee: Overweight, Stressed, and Unfit

by Admin on September 18, 2015

A new report sheds more light on the health profile of Australian employees.

The study jointly conducted by the University of Wollongong and the Workplace Health Association Australia (WHAA) analysed health conditions of employees over a five to 10 year period. It found greater rates of inactivity, stress, and higher body mass than national averages.

“This is an alarming insight into the poor levels of health experienced by most Australian workers,” said John Lang, CEO of the WHAA.

Results from the study highlight the need for preventative measures in the workplace. The report correlates health data from five organisations and compared with recent Australian population data.

Here are key findings from the study:

  • 12% had high blood pressure
  • 8% had high cholesterol
  • 3% were overweight and 20.2% were obese
  • 11% were daily smokers or consumed alcohol at risky levels
  • 1% reported moderate to high levels of stress
  • 60% were regarded as physically inactive

The figures paint a startling picture that is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore: The average Australian employee is now more stressed and unfit with physical inactivity as the leading preventable health risk.

Demographic Trends

The study found major health differences between age and gender.

Men had greater rates of high blood pressure/hypertension, BMI, and alcohol related risks. Women had higher levels of psychological distress with rates well above national averages. Levels of BMI, blood pressure/hypertension, and cholesterol all tended to increase with age. Smoking was more prevalent amongst younger age groups, while those between 45 and 54 consumed alcohol at risky levels.

The age group most likely to be psychologically distressed were employees aged 16 to 24. Findings demonstrate the urgent need for organisations to create workplaces that are conducive to health.

Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and BMI

Blood pressure levels fluctuated over the past decade while total cholesterol showed an overall increase. However, overall rates for both remain below national levels.

The percentage of overweight and obese people saw a slight increase from 2004 to 2014 (58.8% and 64.1%) and remains above the national average. Both employees and the general population have shown almost identical trends in terms of insufficient physical exercise.

The number of daily smokers has seen a significant decrease over the past decade and is now well below the national average. The fact that smoking is banned in workplaces is no doubt a contributing factor. Alcohol consumption has also fallen sharply since 2004 and is even further below the general average.

Mental Health and Stress

The study found that 66% of men and 70% of women suffered from moderate to high levels of psychological stress. Both cases were significantly higher than the national average. Perhaps most alarming is that nearly three quarters of women reported an impact on mental health due to stress.

Employees aged less than 25 reported a higher portion of stress, but differences with other age groups were minor.

Differences by Age

The percentage of overweight people varied by age.

A significant majority of employees (70%) aged 50 years and over were reported to be overweight or obese. This is in contrast to ages 25 to 49 (60%) and younger (40%).

Cholesterol levels also varied with each age group. More than 30% of those from 50 to 65 had high cholesterol compared to 20% for those aged 25 to 49 and over 65 years. Those under 25 had the lowest cholesterol at 8%. But the younger age groups had a higher smoking rate than for older employees.

Physical exercise was the highest for employees aged 16 to 24 and the lowest for those aged 55 to 64.

The study describes the average Australian employee as stressed, unfit, and overweight. Results demonstrate an unhealthy trend which highlights the need for prevention in the workplace.

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Rosemary Boon

Registered Psychologist

M.A. (Psych),
Grad. Dip. Ed. Studies (Sch. Counsel),
Grad Dip. Ed. B Sc, Dip. Nut.
MAPS, AACNEM, ATMS, ISNR, ANSA.

Provider No. 2582331F ATMS No. 20831
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