Thursday, July 30, 2009

Area Businesses Look At Ways To Improve Employee Health

“If you want to live, don't take a seat. ‘The worst thing you can do is to say 'take a seat' when they walk in your office,’ Andy Wood told a group of about 45 people Tuesday at the Rochester Athletic Club. This was one of many simple and often free suggestions for businesses as well as individuals to reform their own health care. Wood, a Rochester native who worked for General Mills as director of corporate wellness for 25 years, suggested walking meetings and chair-less conference rooms as simple ways for a business to improve the health of its employees. ‘Move it or lose it’ is how RAC General Manger Greg Lappin phrased it. Lappin says this generation is unique compared to the extremely physical lives of the hunters and farmers of the past. ‘We by choice can lead a sedentary life,’ he said of today's ranks of office workers. And that is often cited as a major cause of a deadly and expensive epidemic of obesity and related health problems like heart disease and diabetes in the U.S. Obese workers cost employers significantly more each year in health care than their slimmer counterparts. And workers compensation claims are more than double for obese employees, he said. Looking at a person's overall health, more than 51 percent of it is simply about ‘what we do or what we don't do,’ Wood pointed out. About $1,000 a year is how much more a tobacco-using employee costs a business in health care over workers that do not use tobacco, he said. Obesity and using tobacco are equally bad, said Dr. James Seward, a retired Mayo Clinic physician and founder of EchoMetrics. ‘Studies have shown that the costs and impacts of smoking are equal to those of obesity,’ he said. So having a healthier workforce can save a company money on health care, but does promoting wellness through exercise programs, healthy snacks and other corporate actions pay off? ‘Every $1 of prevention will save you $3,’ said Seward, citing a recent study. That adds up to an estimated $1,500 to $1,800 savings per employee each year. Another study announced Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that obesity costs about $147 billion in health care spending each year. That's significantly more than the $93 billion a year spent on treating all forms of cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.”

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