Workplace programs targeting physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary habits are effective in mitigating the impact of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to a study published this week.

Deaths from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes are forecast to rise 17 per cent in 2005-2015, said the joint study by the business thinktank the World Economic Forum and the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The impact of these deaths and health problems on the economies of different countries is dramatic, with China forecast to lose $557.7 billion in the period, Russia $303.2 billion and India $236.6 billion, it said.

“Enhancing employee productivity, improving corporate image and moderating medical care costs are some of the arguments that might foster senior management to initiate and invest in WHP (workplace health promotion) programs,” it said.

Unhealthy diets and excessive energy intake, physical inactivity and tobacco use are major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, it said.

In 2005, about 35 million people died of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, accounting for 60 percent of all deaths worldwide, it said.

This is projected to rise to 47 million deaths a year in the next 25 years, the study said.

Around 80 per cent of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries that also have to deal with infectious diseases, poor maternal and perinatal conditions and nutritional deficiencies, it said.

Successful workplace programs are linked to business objectives, enjoy strong management support, involve staff from the start and are adapted to social norms, it said.

The study cited scientific evidence that healthy diet and adequate physical activity — at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a minimum of five days per week — help prevent non-communicable disease.

The study, based on programs in rich countries mainly in Europe and North America, said further research was needed, especially for poor countries.

The study was presented as the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly opened in Geneva. Business leaders attending the launch urged the 193-member state forum to tackle the causes of chronic disease in the workplace.