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New resources target prevention in the workplace

Community prevention works to increase health in the places where people live, work, learn and play - and businesses have a huge role to play in promoting prevention, both within and outside the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced $10 million in grant funding to implement and evaluate comprehensive worksite wellness policies.

The grants will support establishment and evaluation of comprehensive workplace health promotion programs across the nation to improve the health of American workers and their families. The initiative, with funds from the Affordable Care Act's Prevention and Public Health Fund, is aimed at improving workplace environments so that they support healthy lifestyles and reduce risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

"Spiraling health care costs and declines in worker productivity due to poor health are eroding the bottom line of American businesses," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "This new initiative will help companies of all sizes implement strategies to improve employee health and contain health costs driven largely by chronic diseases."

Funds will be awarded through a competitive contract to an organization with the expertise and capacity to work with groups of employers across the nation to develop and expand workplace health programs in small and large worksites. Participating companies will educate employees about good health practices and establish work environments that promote physical activity and proper nutrition and discourage tobacco use - the key lifestyle behaviors that reduce employees' risk for chronic disease.

"This is an exciting opportunity to help employers deliver effective workplace health programs on a national scale," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the initiative. "The promise of this strategy is a win-win: workers will be healthier and more productive, and companies will be more profitable."

Project funds will support evidence-based initiatives to build worksite capacity and improve workplace culture in support of health. Examples of such strategies include establishing tobacco-free campus policies, promoting flextime to allow employees to be more physically active, and offering more healthy food choices in worksite cafeterias and vending machines.

A core principle of the initiative is to maximize employee engagement in designing and implementing the programs so they have the greatest chances of success.While workplace wellness interventions have traditionally focused on individual-oriented strategies, such as health risk assessments and health coaching, this particular funding opportunity emphasizes environmental change strategies in the workplace, and presents a key opportunity for advocates to further advance the business case for prevention.

A University of Michigan study demonstrated that workplace wellness programs have long-term health and cost-saving benefits, saving one company $4.8 million in employee health and lost work time costs over nine years. Businesses pay more than a third of national expenditures on health (currently $2.2 trillion). Workplace wellness initiatives have a substantial track record of return-on-investment:

  • $3.48 average return-on-investment for every dollar invested
  • $5.93 average cost-benefit ratio
  • 26% average reduction in health care costs
  • 28% average reduction in sick leave absenteeism
  • 30% average reduction in worker's compensation and disability management claims cost research by Duke University found that the cost to employers of unhealthy eating and decreased physical activity amongf ull-time employees was $73.1 billion a year.

Click here to access the full report.