One year ago, Alfonso del Rio was 110 kilograms and on the path to diabetes. He couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without leaning on the handrail, exhausted and gasping for breath.
Confronted with worrying health assessment results, he was spurred into action. The 55-year-old lawyer swapped chips for fruit, steak for fish and began walking 10,000 steps a day.
“I made changes and lost 30 kilograms,” the Clayton Utz partner said. “I now ‘swim’ in my old clothes, I can’t wear them and I can sustain greater levels of intense concentration. I’ve lengthened my life.”
Mr del Rio’s transformation, as well as his ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle, reflects the results of a new study that shows the legal sector has the healthiest executives in Australia, followed by the banking and consulting sectors.
An analysis of 30,000 health assessments of senior employees at 500 organisations by Executive Health Solutions found white-collar sectors fared best overall, while blue-collar industries – specifically “transport, postal and warehousing” and “agriculture, forestry and fishing” – ranked low.
The study ranked 20 industries based on physical, mental, psychological and medical scores, which took into account blood pressure, fitness, alcohol consumption and body mass index (BMI).
It said it was known blue-collar workers were generally less healthy, and with promotion through the ranks into management positions being more common, there was a greater risk of poor habits being carried through to the executive level.
Blue-collar executives typically had higher-risk scores for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but some industries bucked the trend. The mining industry ranked second in psychological health.
“From the blue-collar perspective, it’s important to continue to invest in health from a culture point of view, whether hours worked or supportive environments,” said John Hall, chief executive of Executive Health Solutions.
“A healthy CEO doesn’t mean everyone in the company is healthy, but a CEO who values health will be more likely to have an environment conducive to good health, from stand-up meetings to better food in canteens.”
When it came to physical health, the “professional services and consulting” sector came out on top, while “agriculture, forestry and fishing” was at the bottom.
Those in professional services had an average BMI of 26.8, with fewer than one in five participants classified as obese.
Executives in agriculture, forestry and fishing, had an average BMI of 28.25, and were more likely to be classified obese. A “normal” range is between 18.5 and 24.99.
The report said executives at law firms were among the fittest, with only 7 per cent getting a below average or poor fitness rating.
In regards to medical health, which considered cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure test results, the legal, financial services and banking sectors were at the top.
The data showed the public sector performed poorly in both physical and medical sub-indices, with federal public sector executives ranking 15th in medical health and their state counterparts ranking 17th in physical health.
“Both industries were particularly affected by poor fitness levels coupled with elevated waist measurements resulting in lower than expected rankings for blood pressure and cholesterol,” the report said.
“This suggests the public sector may be falling between the blue and white-collar divide and would benefit from focusing on movement/activity and optimal nutrition.”
On mental health, “small business and individuals” category ranked last.
Dr John Lang from the Health and Productivity Institute of Australia urged small business owners to not view time spent with family and exercising as a “cost in time”.
“They wear personal responsibility and their pay can be halved in tough times, so it’s more stressful for them and they may work after hours,” he said.
“But they’re junk hours that will compromise physical and psychological health and lower productivity, so it’s actually counterproductive.”
While the legal sector performed well overall, it dropped to 12th when it came to mental health. The mining industry ranked second-best.
In his Canberra office, Mr del Rio said mental health issues were a “scourge” on his industry, but that firms were working to provide greater support and investing in resilience training.
“We like to win, it’s what being successful in our profession is about, and scoring a victory means there’s a winner and a loser, and so inherently there’s a cultural issue we experience that has an enormous, draining impact,” he said.
“If you’ve got a couple of things that don’t fall your way, that dark cloud can descend upon you and it’s hard to get away.”
Pauline Wright, president of the NSW Law Society, said lawyers tried to put their clients, with all their problems, first, and found it hard to switch off from work, especially with time pressures.
“We’ve researched this and our journal has done articles on stress, but a lot of it is anecdotal and we are keen to investigate further,” she said.
“We have a special webpage with Lifeline for Lawyers information and a confidential 24-hour telephone crisis support service. There is help available.”
This piece was first seen on ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ 24 October 2017.