BIGGER waistlines and excessive drinking among south-west workers could cripple local businesses if extra health programs are not rolled out.
Figures released yesterday by WorkSafe Victoria and Monash University revealed Warrnambool and other country workers were more likely to make poorer health decisions than their city counterparts.
About 500,000 workers — including 3400 Warrnambool employees — were included in the data from voluntary WorkSafe checks, which showed many were neglecting proper diet and physical exercise.
Nearly half of all Warrnambool workers in the survey — 47 per cent — were found to consume alcohol at risky levels, surpassing the statewide average of 39 per cent.
The city also burst past the average waistline with 32 per cent showing a “high waistline circumference” compared to the 26 per cent state average.
Fruit and vegetables have also been left off the plate with 88 per cent of staff in the WorkSafe checks admitting to eating only small portions.
Workhealth program director Pam Anders described the alarming figures as a wake-up call for south-west employers.
“Given the significant challenges of labour and skill shortages, an ageing workforce and climbing rates of chronic disease, Warrnambool employers need to address the added challenge of poor worker health to ensure the future productivity of the region,” Ms Anders said.
“We know that certain risk factors, such as risky alcohol intake and a high waist circumference, are some of the more significant concerns for workers in Warrnambool, which can contribute to a heightened risk of developing chronic disease.”
Overall, country workers also had a higher rate of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Western Alcohol and Drug Centre (WRAD) Director Geoff Soma told The Standard the figures were consistent with other studies in the past.
He said over half of the WRAD’s 2500 clients were being treated for alcohol abuse.
“We nearly have upwards of 50 per cent of our contacts needing alcohol intervention on average,” Mr Soma said.
“It’s a huge issue and we’re glad statistics like these are coming out.”
However, he explained many of those who sought treatment at the centre had already lost their employment. In cases where trends towards excessive drinking could be identified early, Mr Soma said employment provided an “important ritual” to help people recover.
Under federal heath guidelines more than two standard drinks a day can classify as high-risk drinking.
Alcohol and drug abuse costs the Victorian economy about $14 billion each year, Mr Soma said.
But the community health leader called on all levels of government to boost support for alcohol abuse treatment.
“I would like to see a really brave government trial some new intervention programs as well as stabilising the treatment sector,” Mr Soma said.
Immediate treatment for alcohol abuse is not always available and clients are forced to wait up to a week to be seen.
He described the number of detoxification beds at the Warrnambool Base Hospital as “hardly enough”.
Warrnambool City Council director of community development Vicky Mason said the local government body was aware of the specific health challenges facing the city.
“The most recent information we have is the Victorian population health survey and that does show that we have a high rate of obesity here,” Ms Mason said.