September 16, 2019
Gone are the days of the impersonal relationships between employers and employees. Modern companies are investing more than ever in their most important resource – their employees. These companies know that an engaged and healthy workforce equals a productive and efficient workforce. That’s why the numbers on chronic diseases should concern employers across the country.
Chronic Disease in the United States
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease and 40 percent of adults have two or more chronic diseases.1 As of 2014, approximately 86 percent of our $2.7 trillion in health care expenditures was spent on those who have chronic conditions.2 Not only do these diseases tax our health care system, but they also affect our economy: The combined total costs in lost productivity due to the top seven chronic diseases in 2016 equaled $3.7 trillion.3
You may be wondering what qualifies as a “chronic condition.” The CDC defines a chronic disease as an illness that “lasts at least one year or more and requires ongoing medical attention or limits activities of daily living or both.”4 Most chronic conditions cannot be cured, but they can be managed to reduce their effect on people’s lives and health. The top seven chronic conditions are heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
How Employers Can Help
Your employees spend a large percentage of their day (or night) at work, so employers can have a big role in helping employees prevent or manage chronic illnesses. Further, numerous studies have shown that health promotion activities in the workplace can improve employee health, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs.5 It’s a winning strategy for everyone.
Because the economic and healthcare burden is so high once someone develops a chronic condition, the best course of action would be to try to prevent these conditions from happening in the first place. Luckily, many of these prevention strategies can support those who currently are trying to manage their chronic illness(es) as well.
Workplace Health Promotion
Workplace health promotion can take place in numerous ways, including through education, programs, diet, and nutrition. As an employer, you can tailor the initiatives you institute based on what your employees need, and many times these initiatives can work in conjunction with each other to create a holistic approach to chronic disease prevention and management.
Listed below are range of programs you can implement to help keep your employees healthy and productive.
- Education on fitness and healthy lifestyles
- Information on company intranet
- Posters in break rooms
- Information about injury prevention
- Workshops to illustrate safe workplace ergonomics
- Health screenings and assessments
- Workplace fitness activities
- Discounted gym memberships
- Offering an on-site gym
- Replacing sitting meetings with walking meetings
- Company-wide fitness challenges
- Step challenge
- Standing desk competition
- Weight loss contest
- Ensuring employees have fitness breaks during work
- Smoking cessation programs
Diet and nutrition
- Emphasizing good nutrition
- Offering healthy snacks or meals in break rooms and/or cafeterias
- Partnering with vending companies that stock healthy snacks
- Ensuring any catered meals offer healthful options, such as lean protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables
You Can Make a Difference
If the thought of starting or adding a program to your own workplace to combat chronic disease seems too daunting, remember that everyone starts out small and that some support for your employees is better than no support at all.
And if you haven’t yet started your own programs at work, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, less than half (46 percent) of employers offer some type of health promotion or wellness program.6 These programs range in complexity from educational handouts to on-site fitness centers for employees. So there’s plenty of room to grow for everyone – and it's never too late.
Concerned about employee participation? Don’t forget that incentives can go a long way when trying to convince people to change their behaviors. Many employers use incentives – from prizes to insurance premium discounts – to motivate their employees.
You can also lean on trusted sources to help you plan and implement your health promotion programs. The CDC offers great tips for beginners on their Workplace Health Promotion site. If you already know what you need, MedExpress can help. We offer a range of health and wellness resources for your workplace, such as biometric screenings, smoking cessation programs, on-site health fairs, educational handouts, and more.
Making sure employees are healthy and engaged for a fully productive workforce should be at the top of every company’s priority list. It will boost morale as well as your bottom line.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Chronic Diseases. Updated July 3, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
2 Aspen Health Strategy Group. Reducing the Burden of Chronic Disease. Published February 12, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
3 Aspen Health Strategy Group. Reducing the Burden of Chronic Disease. Published February 12, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Chronic Diseases. Updated July 3, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
5 Chapman L.S. Meta-evaluation of worksite health promotion economic return studies: 2005 update. Am J Health Promot. 2005 Jul-Aug; 19(6):1-11.
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Workplace Health in America 2017. Published 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.