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New report reveals impact of wellness programs on employee retention

Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, recently released a report that examined six case studies focused on identifying the relationship between health and economic development. The report revealed how health affects employee retention in civic entities as well as private companies.

The Healthier Americans for a Healthier Economy report found that more than half of all Americans currently live with one or more chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. A large number of serious illnesses are preventable through healthy lifestyle adoption and exercise.

“High rates of chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, are among the biggest drivers of U.S. healthcare costs, and they are harming our nation’s productivity,” said Dr. Jeff Levi executive director of TFAH, and Chair of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. “Workplace wellness and community prevention programs are a win-win way to make a real difference in improving our health and bottom line all at once.”

One of the cases examined took place in Texas where it was revealed that obesity alone cost Lone Star State businesses an extra $9.5 billion in 2009, including more than $5 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity and $4 billion in additional healthcare costs. Obesity also cost Texas employers an estimated $321 million in disability costs.

“If obesity continues to rise, we will have a workforce that will not be as attractive as it could be to companies thinking of expanding or moving to Texas,” said Eduardo Sanchez, a former Texas state health commissioner, current chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and TFAH board member.

Corporate health and wellness programs are gaining popularity across the country and the world as businesses continue to look for innovative ways to cut costs while improving employee morale. It is often a difficult balance, but providing the right incentives can generate worker participation in wellness programs that will result in a happier, healthier workforce combined with fewer sick days taken, more productivity and less healthcare costs incurred by the employer.

“Nashville wants to attract new business,” said William Paul, Health Commissioner of Nashville, Tennessee. “If we’re known as a healthy city, that becomes a positive thing for economic development. If we’re known as a city that thinks about the health of our workforce, that will be a big plus for companies.”