Chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and musculoskeletal disorders are prevalent in the workplace and most importantly, their rates are rising. Although most of these conditions are incurable, they are often manageable with the right treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
While some incidence of chronic disease is related to causes beyond an individual’s control, much of it is preventable. Large studies have documented these health risk factors that not only predispose employees to chronic disease but also drive excess employer costs. These include high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, depression, obesity, stress, tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. As rates for these health risks rise, so do employer costs.
The seven combined risk factors that have been reported to contribute the most to the development of heart disease, for example, were obesity, high stress, tobacco use, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar and physical inactivity. These seven combined risks were found to increase employer costs by over 200%.
The top five health risks that were found to contribute the most to excess health costs in general, were obesity, physical inactivity, depression, tobacco use, and high blood sugar, with obesity contributing the most, at close to $350 per capita/year.
Two combined psychosocial risk factors, depression, and high stress increased employer health costs by over 60%, at about $2184/year, 48% more than for an employee without depression.
Similar patterns in excess costs were reported for high blood pressure, over $1300, obesity over $1000, physical inactivity over $600 and so on.
While the association between these employee health risks and excess employer costs has been documented in large studies over the last twenty years or so, employers and governments have been relatively slow to embrace prevention and health promotion, maintaining the status quo of continuing to offer “sick care” than “wellness care”.
-Employers must create environments that empower employees to stay healthy, in addition to looking after them when they get sick.
-Individuals must take more responsibility to maintain or improve their own health and decrease their risk
– Governments and health systems must promote health and decrease preventable risks by encouraging both employers and individuals to embrace “wellness care”