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Neville Koopowitz: Why isn't the UK getting healthier?

Published: 27/06/2023

In light of technological innovation and the health challenges we face in the UK, the insurance sector has an important role to play, writes Vitality CEO Neville Koopowitz.

Around two thirds are overweight or obese1 and around five million are living with diabetes in the UK2Habits such as smoking, poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are leading causes of premature deaths in this country, costing the NHS billions each year3.

Meanwhile, poor health has driven half a million more people out of work and low productivity is responsible for an estimated total £127.9bn economic loss4 since 2019.

Even as the world continues to move on from the pandemic, the UK is not getting any healthier and economic inactivity levels are still rising5.

"Now is the time to embrace the next generation of insurance"

- Neville Koopowitz, CEO, Vitality

UK productivity levels are low

According to the largest study of employee wellbeing survey in the UK, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, UK productivity has been dropping steadily since 2014. Alarmingly, one in five respondents reported suffering from burnout last year, resulting in an individual average loss of over 90 productive days per year6.

In addition to workplace pressures, a combination of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and wider global issues has taken significant toll on the nation’s mental health – one of the most common reasons for workplace absence in the UK7.

More than a tenth of survey respondents indicated having symptoms of depression, with those affected losing on average over 100 productive days per year8.

Whilst Government steps at the Spring Budget served to shine a light on these challenges, they are unlikely to be enough on their own to turn the tide on the productivity crisis in the UK.

Why is the UK getting less healthy?

Despite continued growth of the wellness industry globally and an explosion of digital wellbeing solutions, the UK is getting less healthy.

Why is this? The simple answer is that, even with the best of intentions, making healthy decisions is not easy. At Vitality, we know first-hand that it takes a complex combination of nudges and incentives to truly bring about sustainable behaviour change within our member base.  

We know poor wellbeing can be caused by a range of factors, such as lack of physical exercise, poor nutrition and a lack of sleep, and too often measures are focused on providing a ‘down-stream’ solution - the point at which an employee is already experiencing ill-health.

The government’s objective of helping people that are living with health conditions return to work – such as by scrapping work capability assessments – is a worthy ambition. However more needs to be done ‘up-stream’, to keep people healthy and in work in the first place.

Shifting attitudes

What’s more, we’ve seen shifting employee attitudes since the pandemic. According to a report published by Vitality in late 2022, as many as 82% of UK office workers surveyed believe companies have a greater responsibility to support the mental health and physical wellbeing of their people following COVID9.

Given the pressures placed on the NHS, this has put the need to provide health and wellbeing support to staff in a way that unlocks productivity sharply into focus.

Especially as organisations step up to play an increasingly important role in providing access to an extensive range of preventative and wellbeing support services alongside primary and secondary healthcare services.

Evidencing behaviour change

In this context, the private sector has an ever-expanding role to play in effectively influencing positive lifestyle choices – such as physical activity, mental wellness and nutrition – to offset the UK’s growing health problem.

If there is anything we can glean from the rapid innovation we’re seeing in the technology space is that never before have we been in such a powerful position to harness the power of engagement in an evidence-based wellbeing programme as a force for good.

An approach that embraces highly advanced data, technology and health management capabilities can carry huge benefits for individuals and in reducing the UK health burden as a whole.

By incentivising positive behaviour, we’ve seen first-hand in our data that we can deliver economic and health benefits that are good for everyone, by revealing patterns, trends and associations relating to human behaviour and interactions. As a result, our members are proven to enjoy better long-term health and tangible value through our rewards. We, as an insurer, see lower claims and better persistency. Society, meanwhile, is healthier and more productive at a time when the NHS is under immense pressure.

With almost 90% of the UK’s preventable disease burden lifestyle related10, our health claims costs are up to 46% lower for those who are highly engaged with the Vitality Programme, the world’s largest behaviour change programme linked to insurance11.

Against this backdrop, our core purpose to make people healthier and enhance and protect their lives has never been more relevant. Now is the time to embrace the next generation of insurance.

Find out more about how Vitality can support your client’s business to improve the physical
and mental wellbeing of their employees, whilst providing fast, seamless access to care:

Where to next?

  • Employers need to tackle burnout

    With burnout on the rise globally, a holistic approach to staff wellbeing embedded into healthy organisational culture not only supports staff – it unlocks productivity too, writes Vitality’s Jill Pritchard.

  • The UK is grappling with a productivity crisis

    With the recent Spring Budget putting productivity into the spotlight, organisations need to be putting more focus on workplace wellbeing – not less – writes Pippa Andrews, Director of Corporate Business, Vitality.

  • Why Novo Nordisk was named Britain's Healthiest Workplace

    We sat down with the mid-sized organisation to hear how it got the ‘sanity check’ it needed through taking part in the UK’s largest employee wellbeing survey.

  • Insights Hub

    Our Insights Hub brings you our range of adviser content - from video series to articles & blogs.

1 NHS, 2022
2 Diabetes UK, 2023
3 Britain’s obesity epidemic is crushing the NHS, The Telegraph, December 2022
4 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, Vitality, 2022
5 ONS, November 2022
6 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, Vitality 2022
7 One in three employees continue to work while experiencing a mental health condition, HR News, Jan 2023
8 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, Vitality 2022
9 Healthy Hybrid – a Report on Flexible Working, Vitality 2022
10 Global Burden of Disease Study, 2020
11 Vitality Health Claims and Insights Report, 2022