Worksite Health Programs Are Good Business Investment

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Employment and Health

Employers who invest in worksite health promotion plans can see a return of $3 to $6 for each dollar invested in the programs over a two- to five-year period, according to a new review published in the December issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Programs that counsel individual employees on their risk factors for disease and those that work closely with high-risk employees seem to be the most successful in improving worker health and keeping employers' costs down, according to Dyann Matson Koffman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues.

The researchers examined 19 studies of workplace health programs and consulted with health promotion experts and employers in an attempt to find out what kind of programs work to prevent and control heart disease and related factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

"No other disease has a greater impact on the health of the workforce and its bottom line than cardiovascular disease," Matson Koffman said.

Four of the top 10 most costly health conditions affecting employers are related to heart disease and stroke, according to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. That study also found that employees with heart disease or heart disease risk factors cost employers thousands of dollars more than healthy employees each year through higher insurance rates and lost days on the job.

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"In most cases, the lost productivity costs associated with these conditions were higher than the medical costs, particularly among adults with multiple risk factors," Matson Koffman said.

In one case noted by the researchers, Fieldale Farms, a mid-sized Georgia poultry company, began spending 2.5 percent of its health care budget on a health promotion program in 1992. After 12 years, the average health care cost per employee was $3,052: less than half the national average of $6,900.

"Fieldale attributes these savings to early identification of employees at risk for chronic diseases," Matson Koffman said.

The studies highlight other important components of successful worksite programs. Regular medical screenings, company-wide environmental changes such as healthier food in the cafeteria, "frequent and simple" prevention messages delivered to employees and regular health education classes can all contribute to better employee health, Matson Koffman and colleagues found.

Financial incentives such as lower insurance premiums for controlled blood pressure or gift cards for employees who participate in screenings or classes are also effective strategies for encouraging participation in the programs.

However, individual counseling about personal health and risk factors "may be the critical component for an effective worksite health promotion program," Matson Koffman and colleagues say.

Worksite health promotion programs will become even more important over the next few decades, as baby boomer employees age and increasing numbers of racial and ethnic minorities, who may already suffer from disparities in health care, enter the workplace, the researchers conclude.

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