Industry Research : Call Center Agents' Health in Near Crisis -- Health Department
Call center agents working graveyard shifts face serious health problems that are nearing crisis levels, a representative from the Department of Health (DOH) said.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, a consultant of the DOH on non-communicable diseases (NCD), said the lifestyle-related illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and cancer have risen at an alarming rate among call center workers.
"Apart from HIV, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Ateneo Univeristy Clinical Psychology department were surprised to see that there is a surge right now of epidemic proportions of call center agents having NCDs," Leachon said.
The cardiologist said that he, the ILO and the Ateneo will undertake research on this subject since the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is a billion-dollar business for the country.
"If your call center workers are sick—you have an economic workforce now in a health crisis," he said.
The industry sees a high incidence of NCDs among BPO workers at 60 percent, and Leachon said a health crisis is in the offing if this goes up to 70 or 80 percent.
Healthcare workers blame smoking for the rise of NCDs to 45 percent among BPO workers and the entire population.
According to the 2008 National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS), smoking does not just cause cancer and lung diseases but is also the number one cause of strokes and heart attacks. Smoking is estimated to have caused 50,000 deaths a year and caused more strokes and heart attacks than diabetes, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.
Because of the shifts in their working hours, BPO workers have a propensity to smoke and ruin their diet while foregoing physical exercise.
The DOH said smoking incidence is directly proportional to the rise in the number of BPO workers, especially those who are working graveyard shifts. Leachon said these young workers have the means or the dispensable income to buy cigarettes.
"It’s dangerous, it’s a double whammy. When you are awake and on the Internet, it’s more opportunity for you to smoke and eat," Leachon said.
He has analyzed the data on workers assigned to graveyard shifts and found that these employees have higher incidence of lifestyle diseases.
NCDs among the younger set
Leachon said he sees around 30 patients a day, with 30 to 40 percent of whom considered young.
"Before, we used to believe that the disease in males would start at 45 years old and 55 years old for females post-menopausal. I see males right now at age 30 to 35 years old sick with non-communicable diseases and females 35 to 40 years old," the cardiologist said.
According to Dr. Tony Dans of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, NCDs are not the illnesses of the old since it is lifestyle-related.
However, there is a misconception that lifestyle is a choice but it is really shaped by the environment.
"If healthy food is expensive, people will eat unhealthy. If there are no places to exercise, people will not exercise. If tobacco is cheap, people will smoke," Dans said.
Because of this, doctors and the DOH are supporting the hike in so-called sin taxes pending before the House of Representatives.
DOH claimed that by making the cigarettes more expensive, the incidence of smoking among the poor—who, according to NNHS, smoke more than the rich—would be curbed.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, February 20, 2012