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Comprehensive Workplace Health Programs to Address Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Tobacco Use in the Workplace

The Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund is supporting a $9 million national initiative to establish and evaluate comprehensive workplace health programs to improve the health of workers and their families.  Through a competitive process, two contractors have been chosen to support this initiative.  

Viridian Health Management, based in Phoenix, Arizona, will help an estimated 70 to 100 small, mid-size, and large employers create and expand workplace programs aimed at achieving three goals:

  • Reduce the risk of chronic disease among employees and their families through evidence-based workplace health interventions and promising practices.
  • Promote sustainable and replicable workplace health activities.
  • Promote peer-to-peer healthy business mentoring.

In addition, Research Triangle Institute, based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, will coordinate and administer a national evaluation of the program.

The Cost of Chronic Disease and the Need for Prevention

Chronic diseases – such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes – are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths among Americans each year.  Treatment for people with chronic conditions account for more than 75 percent of the more than $2.5 trillion spent on annual U.S. medical care costs.  Obesity is a significant health care cost driver – in 2008, about $147 billion of medical bills were weight-related.  With disease risk often related to economic, social, and physical factors, too many people engage in behaviors – such as tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol abuse – that lead to poor health and contribute to chronic disease. 

The indirect costs of poor health—including absenteeism, disability, and reduced work output—may be several times higher than direct medical costs.  Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

Implementing and expanding evidence-based workplace health promotion programs will offer our nation the opportunity to not only improve the health of Americans, but also control health care spending.  Evidence shows that workplace health programs have the potential to influence social norms; establish health policies; promote healthy behaviors; improve employees’ health knowledge and skills; help employees get necessary health screenings, immunizations, and follow-up care; and reduce their on-the-job exposure to substances and hazards that can cause diseases and injury. When done well, using evidence-based and best practices, comprehensive worksite health programs can yield on average a $3 return on every dollar spent, over a 2-5 year period. 

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Program Structure

National Network of Employer Workplace Wellness Programs

  • Viridian Health Management will reach into the employer community to support the planning and implementation of workplace wellness programs in employer worksites. The contractor will recruit and work intensively with 7 employer cohorts representing regions across the country. Each employer cohort will consist of 10-15 individual employers, for an estimated total of up to 100 individual employers participating. 
  • Small (100 or fewer full-time employees), mid-size (101-250 employees), and large (more than 250  employees) companies will be recruited in roughly equal numbers based on specific criteria including little to no experience in workplace health programs and a demonstrated commitment from top management.
  • The contractor will use funds to assist each participating employer with the implementation of a core set of workplace health program elements.
  • Each participating employer will receive a full-service wellness program over a 2-year intervention period.

National Evaluation

  • Research Triangle Institute will coordinate and administer an evaluation of the overall program, including changes in employee knowledge and behavior and changes in employee productivity through decreased absenteeism.
  • The national evaluation will capture best practices and models for implementing core workplace health programs.  It also will document, through case studies, unique challenges and barriers experienced by employers and strategies to overcome them.

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Core Workplace Health Program

Based on employee needs, companies will establish a core set of three to five interventions from an available menu of options that include a mix of program (education and coaching), policy, and environmental supports and that target physical activity, nutrition, and tobacco use in the employee population.  Examples include:

    • Tobacco-free campus policy, subsidized quit-smoking counseling (quitlines, health plans, others).
    • Worksite farmer’s market, nutrition counseling/education, menu labeling on healthy foods, healthy foods in cafeterias and vending, weight management counseling.
    • Stairwell enhancement, physical fitness/lifestyle counseling, walking trails/clubs, flextime policy.

After 12 months, a successful program will have gained the full commitment and support of leadership and employees, fully implemented all core program elements, collected baseline data, and created a health-promoting environment that establishes a culture of health within the worksite.

For more information visit the National Healthy Worksite Program website.

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