DALLAS, Sept. 30, 2009 — Worksite wellness programs are a proven strategy to prevent the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, according to a policy statement published today in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. These risk factors include smoking, overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Heart disease costs the nation an estimated $304.6 billion annually. An estimated 25–30 percent of companies’ annual medical costs are spent on employees with excess health risk defined in large part by their risk for cardiovascular disease.
Employees also pay the price — with higher contributions to insurance, higher co-pays and deductibles, reduction or elimination of coverage, and trade-offs of insurance benefits against 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 program,” said Mercedes Carnethon, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper. “Beyond cost savings and increased productivity, visionary employers are realizing the value of an employee’s total health. An effective worksite wellness program can attract exceptional employees, enhance morale and reduce organizational conflict.”
With more than 130 million Americans employed across the United States, prevention activities have the potential to reach a large audience.
“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,” said Carnethon. “We are hoping this paper shows employers large and small the benefits these programs may provide to both their employees and their bottom line.”
The paper recommends incremental changes to get employees on track, recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness. The paper also outlines keys to a successful worksite wellness program. These include tobacco cessation and prevention, regular physical activity, stress management/reduction, early detection/screening, nutrition education and promotion, and weight management. They also include disease management, cardiovascular disease education including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training, and changes in the work environment to encourage healthy behaviors and promote occupational safety and health.
The policy paper is published at the same time as the American Heart Association revealed its 2009 list of Start! Fit-Friendly Companies on www.startwalkingnow.org. With more than 1,200 companies recognized — an all-time high — employers are clearly getting the message about worksite wellness.
The Start Fit-Friendly Companies Program recognizes employers who create a culture of physical activity and health in the workplace, and provides free walking path kits and online tracking tools for companies that want to get involved.
The American Heart Association also champions worksite wellness programs in its healthcare reform efforts, supporting an amendment that will be offered in a U.S. House Energy and Commerce bill to provide grants for qualified workplace wellness programs. A similar provision was included in the Senate Finance Committee bill. Employers who choose to offer healthy lifestyle behavior incentives in the workplace, such as wellness credits and financial incentives, should provide these directly to the employee. In the context of health reform and employer-based health insurance, the association opposes financial incentives that are attached to healthcare premiums or health status.
“The current health care debate has challenged us to think about ways to reduce medical spending which in part shifts the focus to prevention,” said Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., president of the American Heart Association. “This report reinforces the tremendous opportunity we have in health care to further encourage and create incentives for employers to establish evidence-based worksite wellness programs that will reduce health care costs and improve the health of the American workforce. It used to be that every good thing begins at home but in today’s more challenged economy, the focus needs to include both the home and worksite if truly meaningful improvements in health are to occur.”
Co-authors are: Laurie P. Whitsel, Ph.D.; Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D.; Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D.; Richard Milani, M.D.; Charlotte A. Pratt, Ph.D.; and Gregory R. Wagner, M.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.
For more on AHA’s advocacy efforts for worksite wellness visit: www.americanheart.org/workplacewellness
To view the complete list of 2009 Start! Fit-Friendly Companies visit: www.startwalkingnow.org
About the American Heart Association
Founded in 1924, we’re the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases — America’s No. 1 and No. 3 killers — we fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health. To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit americanheart.org.
Editor’s Note: Contact the American Heart Association for examples of successful worksite wellness programs or to be connected with a Start! Fit-Friendly Company.
NR09 – 1121 (Circ/WorkWellness-Carnethon)