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Study of large companies finds nearly all workers at risk of stroke, heart disease

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Baltimore – Health experts are calling for more research-based workplace wellness programs after a recent study showed that nearly all workers at 20 large companies face a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke due to high blood pressure, unhealthy diet, obesity and other risk factors.

For the study, conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Truven Health Analytics and the American Heart Association, nearly 375,000 workers from 20 large employers voluntarily filled out health assessments from AHA’s Workplace Health Achievement Index. The index is designed to analyze how employers support their workers’ cardiovascular health.

About 95 percent of the workers had one or more of the major risks for stroke and heart disease. Those risks include high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, poor diet, tobacco use and unhealthy weight.

Employers that had workplace wellness programs and policies got higher index scores and had fewer workers with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use and physical inactivity. Employers with higher scores also had higher per capita spending for cardiovascular disease. However, these employers did not have fewer workers with high blood glucose or unhealthy body mass index.

The risk factors collectively raise medical costs for employers by more than 200 percent per worker annually. Stroke and heart disease result in about $316 billion per year in health expenses and lost productivity in the United States, a press release from AHA states.

The findings support the necessity for more workplace wellness programs and policies based on research to promote worker health and lower employer costs, according to the release. Successful programs are “systematic in their design and based on evidence of effectiveness,” rather than “fads or one-time activities,” Ron Goetzel, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and vice president of health and productivity research at Truven Health Analytics, said in the release.

“It goes beyond flu shots,” Goetzel said. “A wellness program has to be integrated into the company with senior management support.”

The study was published in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs.

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