chronic disease workplace wellness

Study Reviews Worksite Health Interventions for ‘Employees with Elevated Risk of Chronic Diseases’

We know that well-run workplace wellness programs can help employees with elevated risk of chronic diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, as well as help reduce health care cost for employers.

Now a new study published in Safety and Health at Work catalogues “the common intervention and evaluation strategies used when implementing and assessing those interventions,” and offers recommendations for future  practice.

The report is titled “Strategies for Worksite Health Interventions to Employees with Elevated Risk of Chronic Diseases.”

The authors state: “Most employees spend more than one-third of their day at the worksite. This has resulted in a modern workforce that has become increasingly sedentary over the past 60 years. Excessive sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for multiple chronic health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. In addition, job strain at the workplace is also associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. Nearly 70% of American adults are classified as overweight or obese, and it is estimated that 133 million Americans have at least one chronic health condition. This high rate of chronic disease has resulted in increased mortality rates and has become a public health challenge associated with higher health care costs and decreased workplace productivity.”

But they note that “Employers are taking an important role in providing preventive health programs to their employees. More than 51% of business with more than 50 employees implemented some type of wellness program in 2013. Employers are in a position to support employee health through the implementation of different types of worksite interventions that focus on nutrition, physical activity, disease management, or worksite environmental changes. Studies have shown worksite health programs can reduce direct and indirect healthcare costs related to employee absenteeism, loss in productivity and health insurance costs.”

Further: “Worksite health promotion programs directed at a small number of employees at higher risk of chronic disease have been shown to yield greater effectiveness and cost saving.”

So what types of interventions are most effective?

The study’s conclusions: “The 27 articles showed variation with regard to research design, intervention components, and evaluation strategies. Most of the studies were conducted in a sedentary job setting such as office or clerical jobs. Some of the chosen interventions were adapted from community or clinical research, evidence-based interventions, or commercial programs [32,49]. It is important for researchers and practitioners to seek a firm foundation built on previous practice to develop new interventions. Common behavioral change strategies were applied in most interventions, including goal setting, behavior/weight self-tracking, and motivational interviewing.”

Importantly, the study recognizes that no two worksites are they same. The ability for a well-run workplace wellness program to integrate flexibility — to customize solutions based on culture, individual needs, and more — is key.

The authors write: “Different work settings have unique characteristics. Researchers and practitioners may need to examine their worksite and employee populations before developing health promotion interventions. In the chosen studies, small group education or physical activity interventions were the most prevalent and feasible format. This was used by worksites that have regular lunch breaks or settings where employees have a certain degree of work autonomy. In some small work settings with a small sample of participants, office environmental change to facilitate physical activity could be practical, such as providing sit–stand tables, treadmill desk and pedal machines. In a large worksite where a cafeteria was provided to employees and purchase transactions were recorded, interventions incorporated food labels and nutrition notifications that were feasible and measurable.”