Creating a Vision for Worksite Wellness Programs

Deciding on a worksite wellness program, let alone finding a vision for it may sound like a daunting task. What should the goal be in defining the desired end results? Smoking cessation programs? Weight loss incentives? Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol? Reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke? Yes, in fact, to all of those and more.

U.S. health officials and the American Heart Association have put forth an ambitious set of goals for reducing deaths from heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease in a new program called Healthy People 2020. While this program is a nationwide effort to reduce disease by lifestyle changes, it can also become the vision and focus for many worksite wellness programs. The vision of the Healthy People 2020 program that sets goals for specific prevention activities includes:

• Increasing the number of people who have had their blood pressure and cholesterol tested recently;

• Increasing the number of people who have taken preventive measures to reduce high blood pressure or high cholesterol, i.e. lifestyle changes;

• Raising awareness of the early warning signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke.

A Vision That Includes the Bottom Line

There is a common misconception that a wellness plan for employer groups is an unnecessary benefit that has nothing to do with a company’s performance. Harvard Business Review defines workplace wellness as an “organized, employer-sponsored program designed to support employees (and dependents) as they adopt and sustain behaviors that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness and benefit the organization’s bottom line.”

The dramatic increase in health care costs is being driven primarily by increased number of employees (and dependents) with chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. The challenge is to improve overall health while lowering costs.

While many wellness programs are still largely unconnected to health-plan strategic planning, design, communications and open enrollment, the top 10 causes of death in the United States remain directly related to lifestyle or personal behavior. Employers have endless opportunities (and should have incentive) to affect change in their employees’ personal health behaviors, starting at open enrollment time and continuing throughout the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), 59 percent of next year’s high-risk population will come from this year’s low-risk population.

Carol Guglimetti

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