Australians who work at least one day a week from home are at a heightened risk of developing cancer due to less incidental exercise, changed diets and more time spent in video meetings.
While many Australians took the pandemic as an opportunity to work on their health and fitness goals, research commissioned by the Cancer Institute NSW found more people saw their lifestyles deteriorate.
“It was really encouraging to see that some people felt that they had become healthier across the past year – losing weight, eating healthier, exercising more and even quitting smoking,” Cancer Institute CEO Professor David Currow said.
“Unfortunately, the number of people who saw a negative change in those behaviours was often greater.”
The research found that people who worked remotely were more likely to have eaten more, consumed a less healthy diet and also spent less time exercising.
They were also more likely to have spent time either sitting or lying down.
“Many people are unaware that greater amounts of time sitting down can increase your risk of a number of illnesses, including cancer,” Currow said.
“Even among people who exercise, if the rest of their time is sedentary, their risk will increase.
“In the era of video conferencing from home rather than commuting and moving to meetings, we need to make sure we are getting the opportunity to stand up and move about regularly.”
More people reported gaining weight (40 per cent) than losing it (21 per cent) during the pandemic, while 34 per cent said they were exercising less.
Currow said that as Australia begins to emerge from the pandemic, people need to be careful of letting unhealthy pandemic habits stick.
“We have just been through a year of incredible uncertainty and change, and for many of us the focus has just been getting through it. However, many of these changes, like more remote working, are likely to be more permanent,” he said.
“Given lifestyle behaviours account for one-in-three cancers, we want to make sure that changes made now don’t lead to serious health issues for people in the future.”
Unhealthy workplace habits
The global analysis found at least 745,000 deaths in 2016 were linked to working more than 55 hours a week.
It also found that heart disease deaths linked to long hours increased 42 per cent between 2000 and 2016, while stroke deaths increased 19 per cent.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.
“No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”