In an effort to draw attention to employer-sponsored health promotion and chronic disease prevention, the American Heart Association is calling on employers across the country to establish health and physical activity initiatives such as walking during “National Workplace Wellness Week” (April 5-11, 2009). This year the association’s National Start! Walking Day, which aims to get Americans up and moving for 30 minutes on April 8, will take place during the week.
“National Workplace Wellness Week” serves to encourage private and public employers across the country to invest in the health of their employees by creating worksite health promotion programs and to share their best practices with other employers. The week was initiated by the American Heart Association to raise awareness about the importance of wellness programs like Start! and to address the nation’s soaring healthcare costs, rising obesity rates, sedentary behavior and increasing prevalence of chronic disease. It was introduced last year by U.S. Representatives Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Charles Boustany (R-LA) and established by the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Workplace wellness programs are critical to improving employee health, increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism and lowering health care costs,” said Craig Thorne, M.D., MPH, American Heart Association spokesperson. “National Workplace Wellness Week” is an ideal time for employers to start investing in their employees by joining free programs like Start! and participating in National Start! Walking Day.”
More than a third of the working-age population in the United States is at risk for chronic illnesses due to physical inactivity and the nation’s obesity epidemic. The estimated cost of obesity and overweight related health conditions is $117 billion per year. Just three chronic conditions, asthma, diabetes and hypertension, are associated with 164 million lost work days per year at a cost to employers of $30 billion.
The Start! initiative works with employers and the 135 million Americans in the workplace to create a culture of walking before, during or after work. It offers resources for employers to implement a walking program in the workplace and track employees’ progress in the program. Start!’s Fit-Friendly Companies program recognizes companies for meeting criteria for employee fitness. More than 1,000 US companies have been recognized for demonstrating their commitment to promoting exercise and good nutrition in the workplace.
“Getting your employees to walk briskly for just 30 minutes a day can help lower chronic disease risk factors such as high blood pressure,” said Dr. 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.”