Employee Wellness Programs: Employee Lifestyles Impact Employee Health
- Approximately 40% of all deaths in the United States are premature (at least 900,000 deaths annually) and are due to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as tobacco use, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, misuse of alcohol and drugs, and accidents. Other contributors to early death include genetic predisposition (30%), social circumstances (15%), poor access to quality medical care (10%), and environmental exposures (5%).
- Unhealthy lifestyle is the primary contributor to the six leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory diseases, accidents, and diabetes – which collectively account for over 70% of all deaths.
- People with healthier lifestyles live an average of 6 to 9 years longer, postpone disability by 9 years and compress disability into fewer years at the end of life.
- The prevalence of obesity among American adults rose to 30% in 1999-2000, a 33% increase from a decade earlier, and the prevalence of diabetes also rose by 33% during approximately the same period (1990 to 1998).
- About two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, 55% do not get enough physical activity, 26% are completely inactive,10 and only 25% eat recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables If diet/physical activity patterns continue worsening at their current rate, these behaviors will soon surpass tobacco use as contributors to mortality.
- Among young people, the prevalence of overweight has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years to 16%, daily participation in high school physical education classes has dropped from 42% in 1991 to 28% in 2003, more than 60% eat too much saturated fat, and almost 80% do not eat recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables.
- Lifestyle diseases disproportionately affect women, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor and seniors:
- The prevalence of diabetes among African Americans is about 70% higher than among white Americans, and the prevalence among Hispanics is nearly double that for white Americans.
- Women comprise more than half of the people who die each year of cardiovascular disease.
- Chronic conditions significantly limit daily activity for 35% of persons over 65 years of age.
Employee Wellness Programs: Financial Impact of Lifestyle
- It is estimated that lifestyle-related chronic diseases account for 70% of the nation’s medical care costs, which translates to over 11% of the entire U.S. gross domestic product.
- Two comprehensive scientific reviews identified 83 peer-reviewed research studies reporting that people with unhealthy habits have higher medical costs.
- Research conservatively estimates that high health risks (high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc) account for at least 25% of total medical costs.
- Recent research indicates a direct relationship between modifiable lifestyle risks and reduced worker productivity, and relevant data suggest that the costs to businesses in lost productivity due to poor employee health may be substantially more than the direct medical and disability costs.
- Unhealthy lifestyles often lead to chronic disease, many of which cannot be cured and require years or decades of expensive treatments. Below are estimated annual costs of selected unhealthy lifestyles and chronic diseases including obesity, tobacco use, hypertension, diabetes, stress, and inactivity.
Employee Wellness Programs Improve Health and Yield Major Savings
- Comprehensive scientific reviews identified 378 peer-reviewed research studies showing that Employee Wellness Programs improve health knowledge, health behaviors, and underlying health conditions.
- Research has demonstrated that lifestyle modification may often be more effective and cost-effective than medical intervention in reducing morbidity and mortality.
- Several scientific reviews indicate that Employee Wellness Programs reduce medical costs and rates of absenteeism and produce a positive return on investment (ROI). The most definitive review of financial impact reported that:
- 18 research studies indicated that these Employee Wellness Programs reduce medical costs, and 14 research studies indicated that they reduce rates of absenteeism costs.
- 13 research studies that calculated benefit/cost ratios all showed the savings from these Employee Wellness Programs are much greater than their cost, with medical cost savings averaging $3.48 and the rates of absenteeism savings averaging $5.82 per dollar invested in the Employee Wellness Programs.
- Medical costs are expected to exceed 16 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005 and to grow at 7.2 percent annually through 2015, when medical expenditures will account for 20 percent of GDP:
- Per capita medical costs in the U.S. are the highest in the world and more than double the median for OECD countries, yet the United States ranks 26th in terms of healthy life expectancy.
- Medicaid is the second largest item in most state budgets, and its portion of the total budgets is increasing each year.
- Rising medical costs for U.S. businesses continue to outpace general inflation, averaging 12 percent per year for the past 10 years. This trend is causing a tremendous financial hardship on U.S. businesses.
(Adapted from The Health Promotion First Act prepared by David Anderson, Ph.D., StayWell Health Management)