Preventable chronic conditions are a major contributor to the costs of health insurance premiums and employee medical claims, which are at an all-time high and continue to rise in the United States. Four of the 10 most costly health conditions for US employers—angina pectoris (chest pain), high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attack—are related to heart disease and stroke. In addition, work stress is the leading workplace health problem and a major occupational health risk, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity.
Chronic health conditions and unhealthy behaviors also reduce worker productivity. Five chronic diseases or risk factors—high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity—cost US employers $36.4 billion a year because of employees missing days of work.
On average, Americans who work full-time spend more than one-third of their day, 5 days a week, at their workplace. Workplace programs that promote and protect health, reduce safety risks, and help prevent disease could reach more than 157 million US workers. A healthier workforce can mean lower direct costs, such as insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims, and lower indirect costs if workers miss less work because of illness.
Working With Employers to Set Up Effective Programs
CDC’s Workplace Health Promotion Program in the Division of Population Health is at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to help employers build effective, science-based workplace health programs for their employees. CDC encourages employers to use its Workplace Health Model, which is a comprehensive approach that addresses multiple risk factors and health conditions at the same time.
Workplace health programs are coordinated strategies that include programs, policies, benefits, and environmental supports to keep all employees healthy and safe. They can include health education classes, access to local fitness facilities, policies that promote healthy foods or tobacco-free workplaces, and insurance coverage for preventive screenings.
CDC focuses its efforts on small and midsize employers because 99% of US employers have fewer than 500 employees, and many lack the expertise or resources to develop effective programs. CDC supports employers by helping them assess their efforts, conducting research to identify best practices, and working with partners to train employers.
Helping Employers Assess Their Efforts
During 2016–2017, CDC conducted the Workplace Health in America survey to assess workplace health programs across the country. Results show that 46% of US worksites have some kind of workplace health program. The most common focus of these programs is physical activity, nutrition, and stress reduction. The data from this survey can be used to develop guidelines and solutions for US employers and to evaluate progress toward meeting national health priorities. CDC also developed the Worksite Health ScoreCard to help employers assess how well they have implemented evidence-based interventions at their worksites and what more they can do to improve their workers’ health.