In 1994, obesity-related problems cost businesses an estimated $13 billion, and diabetes contributed to more than 14 million disability days nationwide, the study concludes. Cardiovascular disease, asthma and tobacco use are among the other conditions that have a significant effect on business' bottom line.
The negative economic effect of an unhealthy workplace has not gone unnoticed by all employers, however. The report singled out several corporate programs that encourage workers to better manage their diseases and adopt healthier behaviors.
"Smart business leaders increasingly are finding that it is the right decision to promote health education, physical activity and preventive benefits in the workplace," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.
A recent review of health promotion programs offered by nine employers including General Motors and Procter & Gamble found that the corporations realized a significant return on their investments in employee health, receiving an average of $3.14 in benefits for every dollar spent on the programs.
The bulk of the study stressed the need to change individual attitudes and behaviors, calling them "the root cause of chronic conditions." But the report also acknowledged that people face "significant barriers [to change] in their social and physical environments."
Many of the corporate programs praised in the report rely on counseling, education and other interventions that target risky behaviors like smoking or lack of exercise. Some of the least expensive interventions appear to be the most efficient at changing health behaviors.
However, relatively little research has been done to determine if these programs will result in better health and fewer costs over the long run, the study concluded.
BY BECKY HAM, SCIENCE WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE FOR MORE INFORMATION
Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.