18 June 2019

Don’t be fooled by ‘health conscious’ gen Z: they need employer support

Despite being widely understood to be a healthy cohort, drinking and smoking less than previous generations*, behind the scenes Gen Z faces real and concerning health challenges that need addressing now. And employers need to be part of the solution.

High obesity and low activity rates present a risk

Gen Z, those born after 1996, are half as likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity as Millennials. Lack of exercise (explained partly by their love for social media and related isolation) and poor diet (in part, blamed on hidden high sugars in modern day food and drink) is a lethal combination that is negatively affecting the short- and long-term health of Gen Z.

Employers must educate about healthy lifestyles 

To help tackle the ongoing obesity crisis, employers must support the healthy-living agenda by educating staff about diet, nutrition and lifestyle. Powerful and misleading marketing campaigns, presenting unhealthy foods as nutritious, is one of the areas identified as creating confusion about what healthy eating constitutes. Employers that organise nutrition talks for staff, debunking myths and presenting facts, can go a long way to empowering individuals to make healthier choices. Similarly, organising staff exercise classes – such as company running clubs or yoga evenings – can encourage a more active lifestyle.   

Failure to tackle health concerns has prolonged repercussions

Low levels of activity and high rates of obesity have been associated with long-term health risks such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Failure to act upon the warning signs now, can mean greater health challenges in the future. Not only can this be distressing for the employee, experiencing health concerns linked to poor diet and physical activity, but for businesses it can mean a loss in productivity and need for more costly company healthcare.

Brett Hill, distribution director, comments: “The temptation for businesses can be to deal with current crises, rather than focus on prevention when it comes to healthcare. Employers may therefore be focusing their health-and-wellbeing efforts on supporting those that already have an existing condition, rather than concentrating on how to improve the overall health of others now and in the future.

“No truer is this than with Gen Z. Whilst headlines would suggest risky lifestyle indicators, such as smoking and drinking, are reducing in this generation - these are being replaced by other long-term health risks that urgently need addressing. Many employers have the tools and means at their disposal to encourage a healthier lifestyle - such as access to nutrition talks, discounted gym memberships, cycle-to-work schemes, etc -  which should be implemented across all age demographics in the workforce to support the health and wellbeing of staff. Rather than just offering employee benefits for employees to engage with as they wish, a more robust workplace health and wellbeing agenda must be integral to the company ethos.”

* https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/21/generation-z-has-different-attitudes-says-a-new-report