chronic disease workplace wellness

Report: How Workplace Wellness Programs Can Help Address Chronic Disease

Yesterday we outlined the cost of chronic disease — and why prevention matters. The post highlighted a recent study outlines not only the importance of addressing chronic disease, but also how the workplace can play a role in the prevention: The National Academy of Medicine’s Vital Directions for Health and Health Care Initiative published “Chronic Disease Prevention: Tobacco, Physical Activity, and Nutrition for a Healthy Start: A Vital Direction for Health and Health Care.”

The study notes: “Smoking, obesity, inactivity, and excess intakes of add- ed sugar, saturated fats, and salt are major contributors to the rates of chronic disease in the United States, and the prevalence and costs of chronic diseases associated with those modifiable behaviors account for a growing share of our gross domestic product. Our medical system has evolved to treat people for diseases that result from these behaviors rather than to prevent the diseases. However, as described in the following sections, the prevalence of the diseases associated with the behaviors greatly exceeds the capacity of our medical system to care for people who have them. Furthermore, few providers are trained to deliver effective behavioral-change strategies that are targeted at the risk factors to prevent their associated diseases. There is a need for broader preventive solutions that focus on the social and environmental determinants of chronic diseases.”

Today we address the report’s findings regarding the role of workplace wellness programs in addressing these concerns.

The report notes that: “Workplace health-promotion (wellness) programs can potentially reach a large segment of adults who are not otherwise exposed to or engaged in organized health-improvement efforts. Employers have a strong incentive to keep people healthy because healthy and fit workers are absent less often, are more productive in their jobs, have fewer accidents, and consume fewer expensive health care resources than workers who are at risk for or suffering from illness because of their health behaviors. However, most employers lack the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to build and sustain effective wellness programs.”

The study adds that well-run workplace wellness programs have been show to be effective.

It states: “Research has demonstrated that properly designed, appropriately implemented, and rigorously evaluated programs can improve workers’ health, reduce the rate of increase in health care spending, and improve employee productivity. A 2010 systematic review by CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services found that evidence-based wellness programs exert a favorable influence on health behaviors (for example, with respect to smoking, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and seatbelt use), on such biometric measures as blood pressure and cholesterol, and on organizational outcomes important to employers, such as health care use and worker productivity (Soler et al., 2010). A widely cited meta-analysis of the literature on medical costs, medical-cost savings, and absenteeism associated with wellness programs estimated returns on investment averaging $3.27 and $2.70 saved over 3 years, respectively, for every $1.00 invested (Baicker et al., 2010).”

The report notes ways that the government can help advance the positive work of workplace wellness programs:

“The federal government can play an important role in engaging the business community in building and sustaining effective workplace health-promotion programs.”

“Because the federal government spends more than $40 billion per year on health care for 8 million employees and annuitants (OPM, 2016), there is potential for substantial cost savings through improvement in government workers’ health and well-being and reduced spending.”

“The federal government should also improve communication and dissemination of best and promising practices associated with workplace health promotion.”

“The federal government should also provide incentives to implement high-quality and innovative pro- grams.”

The study also makes an important point about identifying and promoting successful programs: “Although many workplaces have successful initiatives, the recognition and spread of successful programs remain low. Additional funds would enable CDC to conduct applied research in real-world settings, to evaluate the effects of established and long-standing workplace programs, and to monitor uptake of worksite wellness practices throughout the United States.”