01.01.2014 Working together to improve employee health and physical activity

2013 annual conference. The 2013 annual conference of "actionsanté", which was held in Berne's Kursaal on 5 November, focused on cooperation between the authorities and the private sector to improve employee health and physical activity, and on the views of young people on health-related topics.

Pictures Working together to improve employee health and physical activity


In her opening address at the annual conference of "actionsanté", Maya Graf, President of the National Council, organic farmer and qualified social worker, emphasised the importance of the role that politics and the economy play in promoting health and physical activity at the workplace. "It is a key task of politicians to respond to developments in society. Business people, for their part, have a moral obligation to pull in the same direction," she stated. According to Rahel Mösch, from the Youth Session Forum and the "Social Security and Health" specialist group, the Youth Session of the Swiss Parliament also recently addressed the impact of the performance-oriented society and of diet on health. The youth parliamentarians drew up a project proposal aiming to reduce stress and overloading at the workplace – for instance by improving workplace design. Mösch also advocated offering young people in schools, universities and companies healthy meals at prices they could afford to pay.

Involving the business sector
According to Samuil Simeonov, project manager at Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation, sector-specific initiatives are a particularly effective means of involving the private sector in efforts to solve social problems. For such initiatives to be successful, he says, five conditions have to be satisfied: the campaigns should be predicated on a joint basis of public and private sector involvement, and they should aim for a high level of public and private sector participation, demonstrate their reliability by laying down achievable and measurable objectives, promote transparency and be planned so as to ensure sustainability of resources. For Samuil Simeonov, such campaigns can generate ecological added value and/or direct benefits, for instance by increasing a company's competitiveness.

Awareness instead of a guilty conscience
Didier Gasser, head of Health & Safety at the Workplace and of Human Resources at Migros Vaud, described how a company can, in relation to physical activity and diet, assume responsibility towards its employees and invest in health at the workplace. One of the key factors supporting an in-house health and physical activity campaign was, according to Didier Gasser, the high proportion of overweight employees at Migros stores. The result is the campaign for "Bonne Santé en Entreprise" (Good health at the workplace), which operates at two levels: training executive staff with the aim of closing the knowledge gaps concerning better health and more physical activity, and communication using the Dr PEPS mascot as an aid and targeting the entire workforce. The campaign kicked off three years ago with a set of interactive instructions for encouraging greater physical activity at the workplace and with the targeted provision of information. As Didier Gasser reported, employees are now more physically active, ill less frequently and work more efficiently.

More incentives, less regulation
The morning's topics were taken up again in three in-depth sessions, each one moderated by a different member of actionsanté's Expert Group. For instance, the involvement of the private sector in efforts to solve social problems was on the agenda for one of the three in-depth sessions. Companies should first determine their workforce's needs before drawing up their campaigns. Moreover, suitable infrastructure is required in order to ensure that more physical activity at the workplace is actually possible. Lukas Zahner, from the University of Basel's Institute of Sport and Sport Sciences and a member of the actionsanté Expert Group, stated with regret that "Unfortunately, Switzerland still lacks flagship projects and opportunities for positive comparisons that demonstrate how health campaigns at the workplace impact on employees and their health and productivity".

Joint basis for successful cooperation
During the panel discussion, representatives from business, research and administration swapped views on companies' social responsibilities. Matthias Schneider, head of communications at Coca-Cola Switzerland, emphasised that the drinks manufacturer wanted to help resolve the growing problem of overweight and had already launched a number of initiatives to this end. Roland Charrière, Deputy Director of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and head of its Consumer Protection Directorate, underscored the importance of dialogue with the private sector, suggesting that actionsanté could take on a significant role as multiplier in this context.



Sandra Habegger, Nutrition and Physical Activity Section, sandra.habegger@bag.admin.ch

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