This month (May) is “May Measurement Month”, which raises awareness globally of the risks of high blood pressure and hypertension. Employers can use this, and the UK’s “Know your numbers” initiative this autumn, as an employee health and wellbeing opportunity to raise awareness about this often “silent killer”.
Employee health and wellbeing – understanding the risks of high blood pressure
This month (May) is “May Measurement Month”, the global initiative run by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) and endorsed by the World Hypertension League to improve health and wellbeing education and knowledge around raised blood pressure.
Raised blood pressure is the number one cause of preventable deaths worldwide and, because it is often symptomless, is commonly known as the “silent killer”.
It will mean that during May awareness-raising and synchronised screening events will happen around the world, including in the UK.
More than 1.2 million people had their blood pressure measured as a result in 2017, with 1.5 million people reached last year, making the initiative the world’s largest ever public blood pressure screening programme, according to the ISH. While this is a global initiative, it aligns closely with Blood Pressure UK’s “Know your Numbers!” campaign that runs every autumn in the UK, this year from 9-15 September.
Workplace blood pressure checks
During Know your Numbers! week hundreds of “pressure stations” offer free blood pressure checks across the UK, including in many workplaces, enabling thousands of people to get their blood pressure checked.
The great thing about both these initiatives, of course, is the fact they’re raising awareness of and knowledge about the risks of a condition that can otherwise get overlooked or ignored. Yet, if left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications, including stroke and heart attacks.
In fact, the NHS estimates that as many as one in four UK adults has high blood pressure, but many are unaware of the fact. It is also estimated that the consequences of high blood pressure costs the NHS in England £2bn every year.
The workplace can be a great place in which to start to change this narrative, whether through specific health promotion activities linked to May Measurement Month or Know your Numbers! or just more generally through regular health screening and access to occupational health.
Organisations can offer blood pressure checks as part of wider health assessments. Blood pressure checks are also a key element of the NHS Health Check programme for adults aged over 40. Therefore, encouraging employees to make an appointment with their GP to take up this opportunity can be a good idea.
Sedentary working lifestyles
Emphasising the links between high blood pressure and poor diet, especially excessive salt intake, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise can also be valuable.
On top of this, working to effect practical change within your organisation can make a difference, perhaps by offering healthier choices in the canteen or vending machines or through encouraging less sedentary working practices.
As Optima Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Lucy Wright points out: “The fact high blood pressure or hypertension is normally symptomless means it can easily go under the radar. But it is a killer, and leaving it unchecked or untreated can lead to significant complications later in life.
“Being aware of your blood pressure, the factors that can lead to heightened readings and common lifestyle changes and choices that can make a difference is important. The stresses and strains of the modern working world, from commuting through to day-to-day demands, long hours and sedentary lifestyles, can all exacerbate and worsen blood pressure.
“So it makes sense for employers and occupational health professionals to be leading the way in helping employees to understand, first, what their blood pressure is and, second, if it is elevated, what they can do about it and/or when to go and seek medical advice,” she adds.