Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) has defended local employers over claims they are encouraging obesity among their workforce. According to a report by Willis PMI Group, almost a third (30 per cent) of Midlands workers claim their employers have directly contributed to higher levels of obesity. Longer working hours preventing exercise was cited by 62 per cent as the main reason for this, although almost half (48 per cent) blamed unhealthy vending machine or ‘tuck shop’ snacks while a lack of exercise facilities and initiatives (47 per cent) and unhealthy canteen food (41 per cent) were said to be the third and fourth biggest factors behind the assertion.

PMI director Mike Blake said: “The government estimates obesity contributes to the loss of 16 million certified incapacity days each year and this research suggests employers may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

“The findings call for businesses in the Midlands to review their existing workplace cultures and practices and, where appropriate, proactively adopt health and wellbeing initiatives.”

However, Chamber chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “Local businesses understand the importance of having a healthy workforce, and we know of many initiatives among member businesses which encourage employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

“One of our members, Shakespeare Martineau, announced an initiative to get their staff to walk to Australia and back – not literally, I should add - in order to get healthier.

“The survey itself points to the number of firms who offer cut-price gym memberships, fitness classes and even weight-loss schemes.

“Employers clearly want a healthy workforce, so to state they are contributing to obesity is unfair.

“While it is important for businesses to be supportive and offer such schemes, ultimately employees must be the ones to take up these opportunities and be responsible for their own well-being.”

However, the survey goes on to claim that younger workers were more critical of their employers than their older colleagues. Forty-two per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds blamed their bosses for contributing to higher levels of obesity, compared with just 29 per cent of 35 to 64-year-olds.

Mr Blake said: “Support and education for employees to combat obesity can be relatively inexpensive to implement but by encouraging staff to lead healthier lifestyles businesses can help cut obesity-related illnesses and the associated business risks.”