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Wellness - Workplace

Posted Jan 16th, 2008 in Articles

Workers' poor health habits costing employers

The Arizona Republic Jan. 16, 2008
By Ken Alltucker

Arizonans increasingly are overweight, depressed and stressed out, and employers are paying a steep price in lost productivity and absenteeism.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona on Tuesday released a health survey of Arizonans that indicates that companies suffer financially when employees disregard health issues. The insurer believes the survey illustrates that workers' poor health habits can affect a company's bottom line. One solution: offering corporate health and wellness programs that encourage employees to take better care of themselves.

"Our survey shows that we have a tremendous opportunity," said Dr. Gary Smethers, Blue Cross Blue Shield's chief medical officer and senior vice president of health services. "A benefit is increased productivity at the workplace."

Blue Cross unveiled the survey findings at a conference featuring former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, who served in the Bush administration from 2002 to 2006. The insurer conducted a health assessment of more than 3,000 Arizonans in all counties in May and June. The survey cited a 95 percent confidence level with a 1.8 percent margin of error.

Among the findings:

  • Eighty-seven percent of survey takers said their health could be improved, with the most common problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or back, neck or spinal pain. A comparable survey conducted in 2006 found that 79 percent of Arizonans cited health concerns.
  • More than one in five (22 percent) who held jobs missed at least one day of work in the past three months because of poor health and 53 percent said their health harmed work performance.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of Arizonans reported feeling stressed and nearly two-thirds did not get the recommended minimum seven hours of sleep each night or day.
  • The survey also reported that nearly two-thirds of Arizonans are obese or overweight and that many did not follow recommended health screens such as breast examinations for women over 40 or prostate tests for men over 50.

Some health-care professionals attending the conference said that emphasis on wellness programs is a smart move when combined with clinical treatments that treat chronic conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes.

"The message was very clear on engaging employees at the work site," said Mike McGranahan, chief financial officer of Scottsdale-based Clinical Resources Group.

Reach the reporter at ken.alltucker@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8285.

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