May 27, 2015

Health Behavior Changes That Make ‘Cents’

Health behavior changes that make cents

Eat your vegetables. Get eight hours of sleep. Quit smoking. Drink organic milk. Get a checked-up….argh, so much health advice!

We cannot possibly comply with every health article we read or health tip we hear on the radio or latest podcast. Even if we did have all the time in the world, it’s often contradictory information. So what’s a person (or company) to do?

Which health behaviors should we focus on to improve health and lower our medical costs?

Here are just a few ways that research show can help make employees healthier and save companies money.

Quit Smoking

A huge step you can take to improve your overall wellness is to quit smoking. Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases and is responsible for one in every five deaths in the U.S. each year.

Quitting smoking lowers your health risks. Take, for example, heart health. A person’s heart attack risk drops sharply just one year after quitting, and stroke risk decreases to about the same as a nonsmoker’s within 2 to 5 years after quitting.

Employers can achieve cost savings by offering tobacco cessation assistance. That’s a fancy way of saying help your employees quit smoking!

A study appearing in Tobacco Control last year found that employers pay more than $5,816 for each employee who smokes. What’s nice about this study is that it examined not only health care costs, but also absenteeism, smoking breaks, pension benefits and presenteeism (attending work while sick).

The American Lung Association nicely lays out this study and others in Helping Smokers Quit Saves Money. A note to the smaller companies out there that may not have the resources to offer a tobacco cessation program: try promoting the state-sponsored quitline.

Quitlines are a free resource just waiting to be used! I led a study that appeared in Tobacco Control where my colleagues and I found that only 6% of WA State employers promote the free state quitline. Employees can also contact the state quitline on their own.

Weight Management

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Losing weight can help lower your chances of developing such diseases and can increase your lifespan.

There is debate as to whether weight management programs achieve cost savings for employers. In certain cases, programs can be effective and help reduce costs.

For example, a study showed that a comprehensive weight management program delivered to 3 Fortune 500 companies may decrease weight and costs.

Other studies question cost savings, often pointing out that the structure of the program, incentives offered and adherence support play crucial roles in whether the program succeeds.

Jeff Fermin’s post presents the connection between weight and mental health. The emotional aspect is an important component of weight management. Focusing on the psychological components while you lose weight dramatically helps.

The success of the comprehensive weight management program I mentioned above may relate to the fact that it included one-on-one behavioral counseling.

Make Sure Employees Get Flu Shots

Getting vaccinated for the flu helps you stay healthy for the flu season. That means not missing work or that dreaded being at work but feeling sick.

Companies that offer flu vaccinations can help employees stay healthier and can save on their bottom line. The American Public Health Association released research that found that for each employee vaccinated an employer can save $63 to $95 per person.

In years of a pandemic flu, savings can be even higher, ranging from $33.94 to $700.69 per vaccinated employee.

What’s an employer to do? Encourage employees to get vaccinated. Perhaps offer on-site flu shots or waive the cost to remove vaccination access barriers. Just remember to hold a flu shot clinic early in the flu season; if it’s after December, there likely won’t be overall cost savings to the company. Another step employers can take is auditing health plans for consistent flu shot coverage.

Other measures to prevent against the flu include everyone remembering good hygiene and staying home when you are sick.

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Make Any Company-Wide Changes Last

What good is a behavior change program if the effects don’t last for more than a few weeks? Keep the following suggestions in mind to increase chance of adherence to programs and achieve long-term benefits:

  1. Have a positive attitude and participate in healthy activities that you enjoy. An example may be bicycling your commute. Refer to my recent blog post about ways companies can encourage and facilitate safe bicycle commutes.
  2. Foster intrinsic motivation rather than external motivation to engage in healthy behaviors. This means taking a health measure because it is personally rewarding (e.g., you like the challenge, or it makes you happy)  vs. doing the activity to earn a reward or avoid a punishment (e.g. you earn a medal or avoid paying an insurance premium).  Check out Officevibe’s great infographic on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.
  3. Keep it interesting! Join up forces with a group of employees to run a local race. Even making small changes like bringing something different to work for lunch—perhaps a healthy salad and not the same ‘ol PB&J you pack in your kids’ lunchboxes—can keep healthy activities from getting boring.

Are Your Employees Making Good Health Behavior Changes? 

If you’d like to learn more about engaging workplace health initiatives, get in contact with our guest blogger, Courtney @MCourtneyHughes. Or contact us at Officevibe!

If you’re interested in hearing some of your employees’ feedback  learn more about Officevibe and subscribe to the newsletter.

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