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Heart Health

Even moderate drinking can be linked to increased risk of heart and circulatory diseases, the British Heart Foundation has warned. With its “Wear it. Beat it” campaign taking place this month, this could be a valuable workplace health promotion message to be getting across.

Employee health and wellbeing – making the link between workplace drinking and heart health

Regularly drinking more than the recommended UK guidelines for alcohol could take years off your life and be damaging to employee health, the charity the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has warned.

With the British Heart Foundation this month also encouraging people to wear red on 09 June as part of its “Wear it. Beat it” heart health campaign and the World Cup taking place this month, this is a useful workplace health promotion message to be getting across during the summer months.

The research supported by the BHF was published in The Lancet in April and highlighted that drinking more alcohol is associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.

The study challenged the widely-held belief that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health. The upper safe limit of drinking was about five drinks per week (or around 12.5 units).

Lower life expectancy

However, even drinking just above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy. For example, having 10 or more drinks per week was linked with 1-2 years’ shorter life expectancy. Having 18 drinks or more per week was linked with 4-5 years’ shorter life expectancy, the charity warned.

Lead author Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, said: “The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.”

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the BHF also stressed that alcohol guidelines should serve as a limit, not a target.

What, therefore, can and should employers be taking away from both these?

‘Al fresco’ drinking

First, the research is an important warning that the recommended limits are set for a reason. As we approach the summer months and, of course, with a World Cup coming up, it is all too easy for teams and workplaces to slip into an “al fresco” drinking culture at lunchtime or after work.

That’s not to say workplaces should be all work and no play. But recognising and communicating the health and wellbeing risks of excessive drinking is important, not to mention the fact that an overly alcohol-based workplace culture can be excluding of those who either cannot or choose not to drink. And then, of course, there is its potential effect on productivity and attendance.

Second, calendar markers such as “Wear it. Beat it” can be a useful way to kickstart conversations around good heart health, including the benefits of exercise and good diet as well as reining back on alcohol consumption.

Finally, with the World Cup looming, it may be sensible for employers and managers to consider how they’re going to accommodate any matches that overlap with working hours.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, has put it. “Going for a quick drink after work, especially when the sun is shining, can be harmless enough. But if your organisation is tipping over into a regular workplace drinking culture that can be damaging from the point of view of health, working relationships, and productivity.

“Employees will often know when they are drinking too much but, especially if it is part of that organisation or team culture, not know how, or feel unable, to stop. To that end, tools, advice, education and strategies to help them to curb their drinking will often be welcome. But it may also be a question of taking a long, hard look at whether your organisational or workplace culture needs to change.”