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Prevention Institute




Prevention Institute

June 30th, 2011

Health Reform Rapid Response: the conversation on prevention

Community prevention works to increase health in the places where people live, work, learn and play—and businesses have a huge role to play in promoting prevention, both within and outside the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced $10 million in grant funding to implement and evaluate comprehensive worksite wellness policies.

While workplace wellness interventions have traditionally focused on individual-oriented strategies, such as health risk assessments and health coaching, this particular funding opportunity emphasizes environmental change strategies in the workplace, and presents a key opportunity for advocates to further advance the business case for prevention.

The Stories

  • The StarTribune reports on another example of federal commitment to worksite wellness in “Spreading the word on wellness.” A newly formed bipartisan Congressional Wellness Caucus will work to promote best practices for worksite wellness interventions.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Contra Costa Blog, “Smokefree workplace legislation approved by California Senate,” reports on the legislature’s push to change norms surrounding tobacco use to truly foster a culture of health in the workplace through policy.

As we’ve noted, traditional workplace wellness coverage has focused on individual-oriented programs that reinforce a personal responsibility frame. Here are some examples:

  • In BenefitsPro, “A simple health plan” surveys the benefits of worksite wellness programs, including improved employee health, productivity and morale, and decreased absenteeism and on-the-job accidents—and conflates keys to generating the greatest return on investment with individual-oriented interventions.
  • The Hartford Business Journal, “Wellness programs can cut costs,” recognizes the strain chronic diseases place on business health care costs, but only references behavior and lifestyle activities as contributing factors.
  • On the Huffington Post, “Wellness In The Workplace: Bringing Preventive Care Into The Office” claims that “[i]t’s obvious that poor lifestyle choices have adverse effects on Americans as individuals,” and focuses only on incentive-based strategies that place responsibility on the individual.

 Tips to Guide your Conversation

Businesses have much to gain by supporting prevention, and we want the focus to be on healthy workplaces, not personal behavior; here are some data and talking points to help you bring that message home:

Talking points:

  • Businesses really deserve the extra boost that healthy workplaces will bring.  Sustainable changes where people work—healthy foods served in vending machines and meetings, more opportunities for employees to be active at work—will build a healthier, more competitive workforce and a better bottom line.
  • A healthy community, where people can access healthy foods and safe places to be physically active, is good for business. Businesses spend $73 billion dollars a year on chronic diseases that are preventable. Our local businesses are going to save money on healthcare costs, lost work days and medical claims when their workforce is healthier. 
  • Chronic diseases related to unhealthy food options, tobacco products and lack of physical activity are one of the biggest drains on our economy. Business can be part of the solution by supporting prevention in their communities, and instituting wellness initiatives that make their businesses healthier places to work. Businesses will be more competitive, save money, and build health and goodwill in their neighborhoods.

Data points:

These data points underscore the costs of chronic diseases to businesses. Couple these stats along with the talking points above, so that the solution is focused on the change in the workplace, not personal blame.

A University of Michigan study demonstrated that workplace wellness programs have long-term health and cost-saving benefits, saving one company $4.8 million in employee health and lost work time costs over nine years.

Businesses pay more than a third of national expenditures on health (currently $2.2 trillion). Workplace wellness initiatives have a substantial track record of return-on-investment:

  • $3.48 average return-on-investment for every dollar invested
  • $5.93 average cost-benefit ratio
  • 26% average reduction in health care costs
  • 28% average reduction in sick leave absenteeism
  • 30% average reduction in worker’s compensation and disability management claims cost

Research by Duke University (subscription needed) found that the cost to employers of unhealthy eating and decreased physical activity among full-time employees was $73.1 billion a year.

What you can do:

  • Visit your local chamber of commerce, and make the business case for prevention; involve them in efforts to promote prevention in the workplace and your community. (Here are some solid, environmental strategies used in California.)
  • Partner with local business leaders to author a joint op-ed on the power of prevention.
  • Ask business leaders to contact their legislative leaders and serve as spokespeople to elevate the value of prevention.
  • Send your congressperson a letter today, educating them about the importance of  community prevention: we’ve made it easy, with tailored emails that you can send directly to your legislators.
  • Write a blog, op-ed or letter to the editor of your local paper.
  • Have a successful example of community prevention in action? Please share it with us so we can include it in our talking points.
  • Visit our Health Reform Advocacy page for more information.

What Works in the Workplace?

Prevention Institute offers a monthly wellness stipend, fresh fruits from a local farm and healthy foods at meetings and events. For more healthy workplace strategies, read an overview from the California Department of Public Health.

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