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World cancer day puts employers in the spotlight

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Only 4% of employees say their employer has run a health initiative relating to cancer. As one in three cancers is preventable, the workplace has great potential for changing unhealthy habits and improving global health.

Employers are missing a trick with workplace health, according to a major international study of attitudes to workplace health, conducted by international healthcare group, Bupa. February 4th is World Cancer Day, and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and Bupa are urging employers to encourage their people to reduce their risk of cancer with relatively simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising and stopping smoking. 14% of the employees surveyed said they had taken action on their lifestyle because of a health campaign run by their employer, so it is clear the workplace has great potential for encouraging lifestyle changes and improving global health.

Of the 17,800 employees from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Spain who took part in the study, only 4% said their employer had run a health initiative relating to cancer. Only one in ten (11%) said their employer had run a stop smoking programme, and only 13% said their employer had run an initiative about exercise. This contrasts with over a quarter (28%) of the employees surveyed, who said that they would like their employer to provide more guidance or information about exercise. Employees would also like guidance or information from their employer about cancer (16%) and stopping smoking (13%). Of the 1,762 employers who were surveyed, over a third (38%) said that preventing cancer among employees is a priority for their organisation, but this is clearly not reflected in the initiatives currently being offered.

Dr Fiona Adshead, director of wellbeing and public health, Bupa, said: “With over half the world’s population in work, there is enormous potential for supporting more people to adopt healthier lifestyles and reduce their risk of chronic disease by engaging them in their place of work. What’s more, smart employers know that healthier employees come to work, perform at their best and go the extra mile. “In 2012, cancer caused over eight million deaths and around half of those people were in the prime of their productive years[1]. Employers have a crucial role to play in reducing cancer.”

[1] Knaul FM, Gralow JR, Atun R, Bhadelia A. (Eds.) for the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries. (2012). Closing the cancer divide: An equity imperative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Global Equity Initiative. Distributed by Harvard University Press.

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