Creating a healthier workplace by helping employees change their behaviors if they contribute to preventable, lifestyle-related chronic disease like heart disease, cancer and stroke can help companies cut costs, health professionals say.
Employers can help workers make the right choices in their daily diet and exercise, and encourage them not to use tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Many times, those tasks are accomplished through wellness programs.
Bad behavior and bad choices cause 900,000 deaths in the country each year, said Joann Namey, a registered nurse who is a nurse consultant for the state Department of Health.
She said according to Wellness Council of America, chronic, preventable disease like heart disease, cancer and stroke cause 70 percent of deaths in America and are responsible for 75 percent of all health care costs.
Ms. Namey said employers are realizing their employees’ health is costing them money.
“The trend today is toward a healthier workplace,” she said. “Employers are seeing the cost benefits of having healthier employees, and are getting on the bandwagon. There are so many options and opportunities for employers to help employees available locally, right outside their door.”
Lifestyle-related chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are the leading cause of disability in the United States. Because they are lifestyle-related, they are preventable, Ms. Namey noted.
Chronic disease, push up health care costs, since employees who are considered high risk for certain health conditions can be expected to account for 25 percent of all medical costs, she said.
For instance, tobacco users are absent from work 2.4 more days per year than a nonsmoker. They are also less productive, because smokers spend 4-8 percent more time on breaks and meals due to smoking-related activities.
They are also responsible for higher health, life and workers’ compensation insurance costs. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke not only suffer discomfort, but also illness, such as asthma, and ear and respiratory infections.
Ms. Namey said Americans’ fast-paced lifestyle causes them to eat the wrong foods and fail to exercise.
Over one-quarter of meals are eaten outside the home, and soda consumption has increased from 34.7 to 44.4 gallons per person per year since 1987.
Regular physical activity is important for good health, and is especially important to lose or maintain weight, Ms. Namey said. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, stroke and several forms of cancer.
Creating a smoke-free workplace is one way to discourage bad behavior. The other alternative is to encourage good behavior.
Ms. Namey said some employers work with vending companies to provide healthier alternatives in company vending machines, like bottled water and fruit. Some also encourage weight loss and healthy eating in the workplace. Another suggestion is www.choose myplate.gov.
In an attempt to better manage their insurance costs, some companies engage in health risk assessments, from which company wellness programs result.
“If a company cuts down on sick days, it cuts down on the cost of health insurance,” she said.
The Greater Hazleton Health Alliance’s Health and Wellness Center sets up wellness programs at the request of companies.
Megan Scherer, the Health and Wellness Center’s chief administrative officer, said wellness programs companies can ask for help with range from a single, one-time program, to a comprehensive program that is done on an annual basis.
“We offer a wide variety of programs,” Ms. Scherer said. “We can do a wellness program on any topic – diabetes, cardiovascular health, obesity, exercise and stress management.”
Ms. Scherer said the degree of involvement that Health and Wellness Center personnel engage in depends upon the company’s needs and desires.
Companies can provide incentives for workers to participate in these programs, Ms. Namey said. Points are assigned to certain activities such as self-reported weight loss, blood sugar that was within range, and good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Those points are tallied, and gifts are awarded according to the number of points an employee compiles within a certain period of time.
“They (companies) have monthly drawings for participants in wellness plans,” Ms. Namey said.
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