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Workplace Wellness Seems to Really Work

Investing in employee health cuts medical costs and ups productivity, heart experts say

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Workplace wellness programs are an effective way to reduce major risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, says a new American Heart Association policy statement.

Each year, heart disease costs the United States about $304.6 billion, the association says. Companies spend 25 to 30 percent of their annual medical costs on employees with significant health risks, mainly because of their increased likelihood of experiencing heart disease and stroke, it says.

But the financial burden also falls on workers, it says, in the form of higher premiums, co-pays and deductibles, reduction or elimination of coverage and trade-offs between insurance benefits and wage or salary increases.

"Research shows that companies can save anywhere from $3 to $15 for every $1 spent on health and wellness within 12 to 18 months of implementing a [workplace wellness] program," the statement's lead author, Mercedes Carnethon, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release from the heart association.

"Beyond cost savings and increased productivity, visionary employers are realizing the value of an employee's total health," she said. "An effective worksite wellness program can attract exceptional employees, enhance morale and reduce organizational conflict."

More than 130 million Americans are employed, according to the association, which means that workplace wellness programs have the potential to reach a sizable population.

"We are making great strides in workplace wellness, but we also know that half of employees don't have access to these programs, mainly because they work in small companies or for employers that have a small number of employees at multiple sites," Carnethon said. "We are hoping this paper shows employers large and small the benefits these programs may provide to both their employees and their bottom line."

Keys to a successful program, according to the policy statement, include:

  • Smoking/tobacco cessation and prevention
  • Regular physical activity
  • Stress management/reduction
  • Early detection/screening
  • Nutrition education and promotion
  • Weight management
  • Disease management
  • Cardiovascular disease education, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) training
  • Work environment changes that encourage healthy behaviors and promote occupational health and safety

The policy statement was published Sept 30 in Circulation.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on physical activity.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Sept. 30, 2009

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