California Promotes Employee Wellness

California health officials are seeking help from the business community to help promote wellness among employees. Healthy foods, physical activity in the workplace can reduce employee medical costs linked to obesity.

Employers should offer healthier food choices and improve access to physical activity at the worksite, according to a new report issued Jan. 21 by the California Department of Health Services (CDHS).

The report, "Fruits and Vegetables and Physical Activity at the Worksite: Business Leaders and Working Women Speak Out on Access and Environment," found that many business leaders support worker health promotion programs as a way to reduce the costs of employee obesity. These costs include increased absenteeism, loss of productivity and higher medical bills.

"Workers spend the majority of their waking hours on the job, so it makes good business sense for employers to try to improve worker fitness," said Dr. Gilberto F. Chavez, chief medical officer of CDHS. "Access to healthy foods and physical activity during the workday can significantly reduce the risks of obesity and other health-related problems."

The report outlines worksite practices that businesses can implement to encourage a healthy lifestyle. It is the first statewide study indicating that both employers and employees support measures to change unhealthy food choices and physical inactivity at work. In addition, obesity-related medical expenses cost California $7.7 billion annually, more than any other state, according to research released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDHS report was released in Los Angeles during ceremonies announcing the California Fit Business awards. Presented by the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, which was launched by the state legislature in 2002 to address the critical issues of fitness and nutritional health in California's schools and workplaces, the awards honor employers that model and value employee health.

The seven California award winners were American Apparel (Los Angeles), Casa Dorinda (Montectio), Contra Costa County Schools Insurance Group (Pleasant Hill), L-3 Communications (Menlo Park), NutriFit (Los Angeles), San Mateo County (Redwood City) and University Health Services (Berkeley).

The CDHS research findings include:

  • Fewer business leaders are concerned about physical inactivity, poormdiet and overweight than tobacco use, even though more than half of,all adults are overweight, obese or sedentary.
  • Fifty percent of business leaders stated that their worksites had programs that were intended to promote good health. The most common offerings were health screenings, health fairs and flu vaccinations.
  • The 50 percent who did not have health promotion programs felt that such programs were not practical because they were too costly and/or employees would not participate.

"The investment doesn't even need to be an expensive one," said Desiree Backman, manager of the California 5 a Day Campaign. "It can be as simple as replacing candy bowls with bowls of fresh fruit, raisins or packets of dried fruit."

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