National Workplace Wellness Week is April 5-11, 2011. It’s a good time for employers to assess the health of their workforce and make plans to improve it. “Workplace wellness programs are critical to improving employee health, increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism and lowering health care costs,” says Dr. Craig Thorne, spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
Medical research reports that 145 million American adults are overweight and 74 million are obese, making more than a third of the working-age population at risk for chronic illness. Obesity-related health conditions cost employers about $30 billion per year, according to some studies.
Wednesday has been marked as “Walking Day,” and the groups are encouraging employers to take advantage of free wellness programs, such as Start! and National Start! Walking Day. The programs push employees to walk before, during and after work.
“Getting your employees to walk briskly for just 30 minutes a day can help lower chronic disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure,” says Thorne. “Educating them about basic cardiovascular disease prevention and developing health education programs that focus on lifestyle behavior change is a huge investment that will increase any company’s bottom line,” he adds.
Companies that create opportunities for employees to improve their health while on the job create a culture of wellness that unltimtely generates the best results. Employers who promote and support wellness, tend to have successful programs. While it is difficult to measure a wellness program stictly on the bottom line but it can be evaluated by the cost of health care and absenteeism. Some employers are finding that a successful program can allow them to move to a high-deductible health insurance plan which can significantly cut their annual health premiums. Under these plans, employers can help pay the deductibles and still save money. Some companies allow employees to earn points for participating in healthy activities which can be used to reduce their share in annual health insurance costs.
The Healthy Workforce Act (S.803/H.R.1897) is a bill to improve the health of America’s workforce which would provide a tax credit to businesses to supprt comprehensive workplace wellness programs. It would provide employers with the means to implement evidence-based strategies for improving the health of workers by addressing causes of chronic disease including obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use.
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