AAOHN: Employers Can Help with Resolutions

Jan. 11, 2007
For workers whose New Year's resolutions include losing weight and curbing their smoking habits, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) suggests turning to an unexpected source for help: their employers.

According to AAOHN, worksite wellness programs – including weight management and tobacco cessation initiatives – have proven successful in helping U.S. employees stay healthy while also benefiting employers' bottom lines.

As obesity affects more than 60 million Americans and costs U.S. businesses $13 billion annually in obesity-related health care costs and lost productivity, more and more employers are considering wellness programs to keep employees healthy.

A survey commissioned by AAOHN in 2004 points out that workplace weight-management programs play a tremendous role in helping employees achieve weight loss. In fact, nearly half of all respondents who claimed to participate in workplace weight-management programs reported success in reaching and maintaining their long-term goals.

Among factors employees contributed to their weight-management success were workplace support groups, guidance from onsite professionals such as occupational and environmental health nurses, accessibility of onsite physical activity classes, healthier food selections in company cafeterias and employer incentives for reaching weight-loss goals.

"These findings are significant, indicating the value of workplace weight-management programs and representing a call to action for more businesses to provide employees with the types of onsite wellness programs that address obesity, and for more employees to take advantage of these programs," AAOHN president Susan Randolph said.

An Ideal Environment to Help Smokers Quit

According to AAOHN, smoking not only affects employees' health but also the financial health of their employers. Each day, smoking claims the lives of about 1,100 people, and for every employee who smokes, U.S. businesses will pay an average of $1,300 per year per smoker, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

CDC also reports that companies pay $47.2 billion in indirect costs from smoking-attributable illness and death, as well as absenteeism, workers' compensation payments, accidents and fires, property damage and secondhand smoke exposure.

A survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that 59 percent of private employers had either smoke-free facility policies or permitted smoking only in separately ventilated smoking areas. In addition to implementing worksite smoke-free policies, employers also can facilitate tobacco cessation programs.

Randolph said that employers could provide support in a variety of ways that best fit the work situation, such as paying employees to participate in smoking cessation programs or partnering up with health care providers to offer referral support.

"The worksite is an ideal environment in which to encourage smokers to quit," Randolph said. "Employees spend so much time at work that smoke-free policies can provide the incentive they need to succeed."

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