Health and the Workplace

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According to a recent survey on employee health, workers could do more at work to eat better and be more active, while employers could improve workers’ health by doing more to encourage healthy lifestyles.

The issue has become important because about three-fourths of Americans will be overweight by 2015, according to healthcare experts. And the rate of absenteeism of obese employees is almost two times the amount of other employees, causing more than $4 billion a year in lost productivity.

Surveys have shown that about one-fifth of all businesses sponsor weight loss programs, mostly in the healthcare and hospitality areas. Because obesity increases the risk of various health problems, these weight loss programs can help prevent disease and keep down healthcare costs. Diseases connected to obesity include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

The survey showed a number of unhealthy practices at work. Many of those employees responding in the survey said they ate junk food snacks at work. Less than half of those responding said there were healthy foods available to eat. The survey also showed that more than one-third of workers had jobs that kept them at their desks. Almost half of those responding also said that stress at work contributed to less than healthy eating habits.

About two-thirds said they would use a gym, nutrition and weight loss programs if they were available.

Researchers said that businesses can offer their employees programs that will help them eat better and be active, programs that will not only reduce healthcare costs for the company but also help to increase productivity.

Surveys showed that more than two-thirds of the organizations had some type of wellness
program, which was about six percent more than during the previous four years. Also, more than 70 percent of organizations that have more than 500 employees also offer some kind of wellness program. Of these organizations, governmental entities had the highest participation with 82 percent, and service industries the lowest, with 62 percent.

Most of the wellness programs also offered flu shots. Others offered health risk assessments and stop smoking programs, along with annual physicals.

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