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Sustained effort in workplace health and wellbeing makes good sense for workers, their families and the economy

Dr Jeanette Young

Presented by: Dr Jeanette Young (Chief Health Officer and Deputy Director-General, Department of Health Prevention Division)

Run time: 14:20

Download a copy of this podcast (MP3, 19 MB)

Why sustained effort in work health and wellbeing makes good business sense and is important for the economic viability of Queensland

Presented by: Dr Jeanette Young, Chief Health Officer and Deputy Director-General, Department of Health Prevention Division

[Start of transcript]

Anthony Frangi:

Dr. Jeannette Young is Queensland's Chief Health Officer and one of the speakers at the 2019 Work health and wellbeing forum, where we are here at Herston, with the birds chirping in the background, a little bit of fresh air. You couldn't ask for a better place.

Anthony Frangi:

Welcome. Why is chronic disease important and why should we be addressing it in the workplace and raising it in forums that we've had today?

Dr. J. Young

We know that chronic disease is the future, so our workplaces in Queensland are actually very, very safe places to work. So now is the time to go on and work with work employees and assist them to be as healthy as they possibly can be. Because we all spend a significant proportion of our life in the workplace and we know that although Queensland does have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, in fact, a lot of that time is spent in ill health and that's no fun for anyone. You want to go into older age feeling fit and well and healthy so you can enjoy that very, very long life expectancy. And so the workplace can do an awful lot to help people be healthy.

Dr. J. Young

Plus of course, there's the benefits to the employer. If they've got a healthy work group, they'll have people coming to work, there'll be less likely to be sick and away. They'll be more engaged in the workplace. There'll be more productive and it will be a better workplace for everyone to work in.

Dr. J. Young

So there's so many benefits here to really expand that traditional thinking about what a safe workplace is, to consider it broader. So to really help your workforce to reduce their risk factors.

Dr. J. Young

In Queensland, our biggest risk factor, although we've done an enormous amount, is still smoking. 12 per cent of our adults, now more recently, 11 per cent of our adults smoke on a daily basis. And the smoking rate is much the same whether you're a worker or not a worker. So there is still work there that can be done in workplaces to assist people to give up smoking, because we know most people when we ask them, do want to give up smoking. So if you can help them in the workplace with strategies and support, that'll be very beneficial. We know no one smokes inside in the workplace anymore, thank goodness, because then that would mean that you would be harming your fellow workers as well as yourself by your habit. And also people don't smoke in work cars, which is really important, but there are other things we can do to work with people.

Dr. J. Young

So smoking is still, a top risk factor but very, very, very close behind is our risks from our very poor diet. Despite living in Queensland with some of the best food available in the world, our fruit and our vegetables and our meat and our fish, it's all fantastic. We don't consume it. We tend to consume really unhealthy non-nutritious, and I don't think very tasty stuff, instead, and the power of marketing those products. But we do get far too much, up to a third of our diet, from what I call discretionary foods. You don't need them, they don't add anything to your wellbeing. So that has risk factors associated with it. It makes you more likely to be overweight or obese if you eat those discretionary foods. But also equally so, you're not getting the nutrients you need because the calories you're consuming are being wasted on sugary drinks, on high saturated fat food, high salt food.

Dr. J. Young

So that's our second big risk factor. And the workplace can do a lot to assist people, because if you don't put temptation there, people don't eat it. So if you provide the healthy options in the workplace, and that's what everyone's consuming and doing it jointly, you're far more likely to avail yourself of that. So that's the second big risk factor that the workplace can help with. That's a good diet, being a healthy weight and being physically active.

Dr. J. Young

And here we've got some good news in Queensland. We've seen a good steady increase in the amount of physical activity Queenslanders do. So 60 per cent of our adults are now physically active at a level to benefit their health. And the workplace has helped there. We've seen, and we heard today about some of the initiatives in the workplace. So you've got stand-up desks, you've got more physically active, sedentary workplaces. I know there are walking groups out there, and people are walking more. It's simple, safe, easy exercise to do.

Dr. J. Young

Then the fifth risk factor is alcohol. And Queensland really does not do well in this place. So again, the workplace can help there. If we can really encourage workplaces not to provide alcohol in the workplace for celebratory activities and so forth, to really think about what they can do to help their workplace. Because we know that around 33 per cent of men at any age drink alcohol at levels that are risky to their ongoing health.

Dr. J. Young

So there's so much that we can do within the workplace to really focus on what are the things that make Queenslander's healthy.

Anthony Frangi

And you're absolutely right when you talk about changes in the workplace. I have a stand-up desk. I love it because it motivates me to walk around and I see others doing that. And then we might go for a walk and even have a meeting going around the block, which is exciting. So we're starting to see some change. But on that, what do you see as the economic impact of chronic disease on our health system here in Queensland, and what you're seeing elsewhere?

Dr. J. Young

Now, our health system can do so much for people. It's actually very, very effective at keeping people alive. It can do more and more tests. There's more and more treatments and we're very good at that.

Dr. J. Young

But that's not sustainable. And also I don't think that's what people want from health. I think they want to be healthy, not be kept alive. And they are two, in my mind, very different things. So the impact, the cost of poor health, of chronic disease is very, very high because it can be treated and that's there. So whether it be cancer that's been caused by smoking, or by overweight or obesity or by alcohol, a lot of cancer can be prevented by just tackling those risk factors. And similarly with a whole range of other diseases.

Dr. J. Young

So the economic imperative to do something, if we want to maintain our standing in terms of longevity, life expectancy, we really have to do more to help people to be healthier.

Anthony Frangi

How much of a responsibility is it for supervisors to drive this change in the workplace? We've talked about individuals doing the right thing. They might get together with friends. But do you think there are times when a manager or coordinator or supervisor needs to provide some input?

Dr. J. Young

Yes. I think this is no different to all of the workplace health and safety obligations on managers in a workplace to provide a safe workplace. I mean now we say you can't smoke in a workplace because of the harms that causes to the individual and to their workmates. I'm sure in the future we'll be saying, "Well, should you be providing unhealthy food options for your staff, leading to overweight and obesity and poor nutrition?" Will that be seen in the future as the risk in a workplace? I think it will. I think that's where we're going. So I absolutely think that managers in a workplace have a role in making sure that they facilitate their workplace to be the healthiest workplace it can for people.

Anthony Frangi

Is a difficult for some though, because it may require some change within their own environment?

Dr. J. Young

Yes, of course. All these things are difficult. If they weren't, they would've happened a long time ago. And it's always a process of change. It's about taking, as we've heard today, small steps and just moving along that journey and taking everyone with you, working with your workers and really seeing what they're doing and making sure you build on that.

Anthony Frangi

And how do these risk factors, how do they link to chronic disease, do you think?

Dr. J. Young

A good third of the cause of our fatal burden of disease is due to a very small number of risk factors. So if you can work on those risk factors, you'll reduce the amount of chronic disease.

Anthony Frangi

You say that Queensland is a pretty healthy state. We have great food and you've mentioned that, and we are exercising more. Though if we were to look five to 10 years, are you comfortable? Are you confident that we are heading in the right direction?

Dr. J. Young

I think we are. We have seen over the last five to eight years, thank goodness, a stabilisation of the rates of overweight and obesity in Queensland, which means we've been doing something right because at the same time, other states have continued to see a rise. So we've gone from being amongst the most overweight, most obese people in the country not that long ago, to then being the second most overweight, to now being the second best in terms of the country. We haven't actually lost any weight. Our percentage of overweight and obese Queenslanders still sits around that 60 per cent. But other states have got worse. So, overtaken that position. So we've got a firm base to start on. We now have to progress that forward. And our government recently passed through parliament, a bill to create a health and wellbeing commission. So we have great hopes that that will take the leadership and move the agenda forward for our state.

Anthony Frangi

And what about our next generation, our next workforce? Those that are either at school or at university level who are about to embark in a career wherever that might be within our state. How important it is to maintain that message?

Dr. J. Young

Of course it is. Unfortunately, a quarter of our children today are overweight or obese. That's not changed over the last decade. So we need to continue to work with our children because it's really important. Those habits that they develop as children in early adolescence and adulthood are going to set them up for the rest of their life. That's in terms of their nutrition, their eating habits and their exercise habits. So yes, that's the next workforce coming through our workplaces, so it's really important that we have some good strong systems in place to assist them.

Anthony Frangi

So it's not just in the workplace, it's at home as well. You need to marry the two.

Dr. J. Young

Of course you do. And in school. And we've seen that a lot of good things are happening with our children in Queensland. They're particularly physically active. They don't quite meet the requirements to be active for one hour every single day, which is the recommendation. But on average they're active for 11 hours a week, so they're making up for it if they miss out some days during the week on the weekend, which is fantastic to see. So we're seeing good physical activity in our children and that's really good. We're seeing some good programmes in our schools. We're seeing healthy tuckshop agenda that's in place and it's very well supported by P&Cs, which is critical. So the parents understand what's happening. So there's a lot of work happening.

Anthony Frangi

You have a high pressure role in what you do here in Queensland. For those who are in very senior positions, how can they maintain a healthy lifestyle in the workplace? What do you do, for example, to keep yourself healthy?

Dr. J. Young

It's about making sure that you put systems in place that support you to do the healthy things; that you really think, what is it that you as an individual. So for instance, I don't buy sugar sweetened drinks. I try not to buy chocolate, you know, only very special-

Anthony Frangi

Only occasionally.

Dr. J. Young

Very occasionally. I try to make sure that what's available to me is healthy, because then that's what I eat. So I always think make the healthy choice the really, really easy one. Don't make it hard on yourself to do things. So think about what exercise everyone, if they really think hard, I think will find some exercise that they actually enjoy doing. Do that and do more of that. Don't go and say, "Oh, all the rage is this particular exercise, so I'll go and do that," because you won't stick at it. Find what you what you like and do it as a family. Do it with friends because then that's going to be more fun. So make those healthy things fun and enjoyable and just do more of those.

Anthony Frangi

And the booklet that was handed out at the forum today, it's a helpful guide and I think it's important to have those resources that can kind of prompt you when you're not quite sure which direction to take, especially when you have a number of staff who you might be supervising at some point.

Dr. J. Young

Yes, those resources are critical. We can't expect everyone to understand how to roll out programmes because that's not their core business or core knowledge. So it's about getting the best advice you can and then providing it to people, and then for them to test it and try it out. There's nothing actually wrong anywhere here. It's about taking things and taking small steps, embedding them, and just continually moving forward in the same direction.

Anthony Frangi

Dr Jeannette Young , thanks for joining us at the 2019 Work health and wellbeing forum here in Brisbane.

Dr. J. Young

Thank you very much. It's been a very enjoyable morning.

[End of transcript]

Presented by: Dr Jeanette Young, Chief Health Officer and Deputy Director-General, Department of Health Prevention Division

[Start of transcript]

Anthony Frangi:

Dr. Jeannette Young is Queensland's Chief Health Officer and one of the speakers at the 2019 Work health and wellbeing forum, where we are here at Herston, with the birds chirping in the background, a little bit of fresh air. You couldn't ask for a better place.

Anthony Frangi:

Welcome. Why is chronic disease important and why should we be addressing it in the workplace and raising it in forums that we've had today?

Dr. J. Young

We know that chronic disease is the future, so our workplaces in Queensland are actually very, very safe places to work. So now is the time to go on and work with work employees and assist them to be as healthy as they possibly can be. Because we all spend a significant proportion of our life in the workplace and we know that although Queensland does have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, in fact, a lot of that time is spent in ill health and that's no fun for anyone. You want to go into older age feeling fit and well and healthy so you can enjoy that very, very long life expectancy. And so the workplace can do an awful lot to help people be healthy.

Dr. J. Young

Plus of course, there's the benefits to the employer. If they've got a healthy work group, they'll have people coming to work, there'll be less likely to be sick and away. They'll be more engaged in the workplace. There'll be more productive and it will be a better workplace for everyone to work in.

Dr. J. Young

So there's so many benefits here to really expand that traditional thinking about what a safe workplace is, to consider it broader. So to really help your workforce to reduce their risk factors.

Dr. J. Young

In Queensland, our biggest risk factor, although we've done an enormous amount, is still smoking. 12 per cent of our adults, now more recently, 11 per cent of our adults smoke on a daily basis. And the smoking rate is much the same whether you're a worker or not a worker. So there is still work there that can be done in workplaces to assist people to give up smoking, because we know most people when we ask them, do want to give up smoking. So if you can help them in the workplace with strategies and support, that'll be very beneficial. We know no one smokes inside in the workplace anymore, thank goodness, because then that would mean that you would be harming your fellow workers as well as yourself by your habit. And also people don't smoke in work cars, which is really important, but there are other things we can do to work with people.

Dr. J. Young

So smoking is still, a top risk factor but very, very, very close behind is our risks from our very poor diet. Despite living in Queensland with some of the best food available in the world, our fruit and our vegetables and our meat and our fish, it's all fantastic. We don't consume it. We tend to consume really unhealthy non-nutritious, and I don't think very tasty stuff, instead, and the power of marketing those products. But we do get far too much, up to a third of our diet, from what I call discretionary foods. You don't need them, they don't add anything to your wellbeing. So that has risk factors associated with it. It makes you more likely to be overweight or obese if you eat those discretionary foods. But also equally so, you're not getting the nutrients you need because the calories you're consuming are being wasted on sugary drinks, on high saturated fat food, high salt food.

Dr. J. Young

So that's our second big risk factor. And the workplace can do a lot to assist people, because if you don't put temptation there, people don't eat it. So if you provide the healthy options in the workplace, and that's what everyone's consuming and doing it jointly, you're far more likely to avail yourself of that. So that's the second big risk factor that the workplace can help with. That's a good diet, being a healthy weight and being physically active.

Dr. J. Young

And here we've got some good news in Queensland. We've seen a good steady increase in the amount of physical activity Queenslanders do. So 60 per cent of our adults are now physically active at a level to benefit their health. And the workplace has helped there. We've seen, and we heard today about some of the initiatives in the workplace. So you've got stand-up desks, you've got more physically active, sedentary workplaces. I know there are walking groups out there, and people are walking more. It's simple, safe, easy exercise to do.

Dr. J. Young

Then the fifth risk factor is alcohol. And Queensland really does not do well in this place. So again, the workplace can help there. If we can really encourage workplaces not to provide alcohol in the workplace for celebratory activities and so forth, to really think about what they can do to help their workplace. Because we know that around 33 per cent of men at any age drink alcohol at levels that are risky to their ongoing health.

Dr. J. Young

So there's so much that we can do within the workplace to really focus on what are the things that make Queenslander's healthy.

Anthony Frangi

And you're absolutely right when you talk about changes in the workplace. I have a stand-up desk. I love it because it motivates me to walk around and I see others doing that. And then we might go for a walk and even have a meeting going around the block, which is exciting. So we're starting to see some change. But on that, what do you see as the economic impact of chronic disease on our health system here in Queensland, and what you're seeing elsewhere?

Dr. J. Young

Now, our health system can do so much for people. It's actually very, very effective at keeping people alive. It can do more and more tests. There's more and more treatments and we're very good at that.

Dr. J. Young

But that's not sustainable. And also I don't think that's what people want from health. I think they want to be healthy, not be kept alive. And they are two, in my mind, very different things. So the impact, the cost of poor health, of chronic disease is very, very high because it can be treated and that's there. So whether it be cancer that's been caused by smoking, or by overweight or obesity or by alcohol, a lot of cancer can be prevented by just tackling those risk factors. And similarly with a whole range of other diseases.

Dr. J. Young

So the economic imperative to do something, if we want to maintain our standing in terms of longevity, life expectancy, we really have to do more to help people to be healthier.

Anthony Frangi

How much of a responsibility is it for supervisors to drive this change in the workplace? We've talked about individuals doing the right thing. They might get together with friends. But do you think there are times when a manager or coordinator or supervisor needs to provide some input?

Dr. J. Young

Yes. I think this is no different to all of the workplace health and safety obligations on managers in a workplace to provide a safe workplace. I mean now we say you can't smoke in a workplace because of the harms that causes to the individual and to their workmates. I'm sure in the future we'll be saying, "Well, should you be providing unhealthy food options for your staff, leading to overweight and obesity and poor nutrition?" Will that be seen in the future as the risk in a workplace? I think it will. I think that's where we're going. So I absolutely think that managers in a workplace have a role in making sure that they facilitate their workplace to be the healthiest workplace it can for people.

Anthony Frangi

Is a difficult for some though, because it may require some change within their own environment?

Dr. J. Young

Yes, of course. All these things are difficult. If they weren't, they would've happened a long time ago. And it's always a process of change. It's about taking, as we've heard today, small steps and just moving along that journey and taking everyone with you, working with your workers and really seeing what they're doing and making sure you build on that.

Anthony Frangi

And how do these risk factors, how do they link to chronic disease, do you think?

Dr. J. Young

A good third of the cause of our fatal burden of disease is due to a very small number of risk factors. So if you can work on those risk factors, you'll reduce the amount of chronic disease.

Anthony Frangi

You say that Queensland is a pretty healthy state. We have great food and you've mentioned that, and we are exercising more. Though if we were to look five to 10 years, are you comfortable? Are you confident that we are heading in the right direction?

Dr. J. Young

I think we are. We have seen over the last five to eight years, thank goodness, a stabilisation of the rates of overweight and obesity in Queensland, which means we've been doing something right because at the same time, other states have continued to see a rise. So we've gone from being amongst the most overweight, most obese people in the country not that long ago, to then being the second most overweight, to now being the second best in terms of the country. We haven't actually lost any weight. Our percentage of overweight and obese Queenslanders still sits around that 60 per cent. But other states have got worse. So, overtaken that position. So we've got a firm base to start on. We now have to progress that forward. And our government recently passed through parliament, a bill to create a health and wellbeing commission. So we have great hopes that that will take the leadership and move the agenda forward for our state.

Anthony Frangi

And what about our next generation, our next workforce? Those that are either at school or at university level who are about to embark in a career wherever that might be within our state. How important it is to maintain that message?

Dr. J. Young

Of course it is. Unfortunately, a quarter of our children today are overweight or obese. That's not changed over the last decade. So we need to continue to work with our children because it's really important. Those habits that they develop as children in early adolescence and adulthood are going to set them up for the rest of their life. That's in terms of their nutrition, their eating habits and their exercise habits. So yes, that's the next workforce coming through our workplaces, so it's really important that we have some good strong systems in place to assist them.

Anthony Frangi

So it's not just in the workplace, it's at home as well. You need to marry the two.

Dr. J. Young

Of course you do. And in school. And we've seen that a lot of good things are happening with our children in Queensland. They're particularly physically active. They don't quite meet the requirements to be active for one hour every single day, which is the recommendation. But on average they're active for 11 hours a week, so they're making up for it if they miss out some days during the week on the weekend, which is fantastic to see. So we're seeing good physical activity in our children and that's really good. We're seeing some good programmes in our schools. We're seeing healthy tuckshop agenda that's in place and it's very well supported by P&Cs, which is critical. So the parents understand what's happening. So there's a lot of work happening.

Anthony Frangi

You have a high pressure role in what you do here in Queensland. For those who are in very senior positions, how can they maintain a healthy lifestyle in the workplace? What do you do, for example, to keep yourself healthy?

Dr. J. Young

It's about making sure that you put systems in place that support you to do the healthy things; that you really think, what is it that you as an individual. So for instance, I don't buy sugar sweetened drinks. I try not to buy chocolate, you know, only very special-

Anthony Frangi

Only occasionally.

Dr. J. Young

Very occasionally. I try to make sure that what's available to me is healthy, because then that's what I eat. So I always think make the healthy choice the really, really easy one. Don't make it hard on yourself to do things. So think about what exercise everyone, if they really think hard, I think will find some exercise that they actually enjoy doing. Do that and do more of that. Don't go and say, "Oh, all the rage is this particular exercise, so I'll go and do that," because you won't stick at it. Find what you what you like and do it as a family. Do it with friends because then that's going to be more fun. So make those healthy things fun and enjoyable and just do more of those.

Anthony Frangi

And the booklet that was handed out at the forum today, it's a helpful guide and I think it's important to have those resources that can kind of prompt you when you're not quite sure which direction to take, especially when you have a number of staff who you might be supervising at some point.

Dr. J. Young

Yes, those resources are critical. We can't expect everyone to understand how to roll out programmes because that's not their core business or core knowledge. So it's about getting the best advice you can and then providing it to people, and then for them to test it and try it out. There's nothing actually wrong anywhere here. It's about taking things and taking small steps, embedding them, and just continually moving forward in the same direction.

Anthony Frangi

Dr Jeannette Young , thanks for joining us at the 2019 Work health and wellbeing forum here in Brisbane.

Dr. J. Young

Thank you very much. It's been a very enjoyable morning.

[End of transcript]