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Workplace programs promoting good health on the rise: study

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Chapel Hill, NC — Nearly half of U.S. employers offer workplace health promotion programs, which are becoming more prevalent, a recent study from the University of North Carolina found.

Researchers sampled more than 2,800 employers with at least 10 workers for the 2017 Workplace Health in America Survey – the most recent national survey of workplace health promotion programs in 13 years. They assessed employer-based health promotion programs – focused on nutrition, stress, physical activity, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep, and a variety of other health topics – along with health screenings, disease management, the use of incentives to encourage participation and health changes, work-life policies, implementation barriers, and occupational safety and health.

Results showed that 46.1% of the employers had some type of workplace health promotion program, up from 44.7% in 2004. Additionally, employers with a comprehensive program – defined as one that includes supportive social and physical environments, linkages to related programs, health education, health screenings with appropriate follow-up and education, and integration of the programs into an organization’s structure – jumped to 17.1% from 6.9% among organizations with 50 or more employees.

The employers most likely to have a comprehensive program had at least one person responsible for the program (72.2%), a budget (64.4%) and several years’ experience with a health promotion program (89.9% had a program for at least one year).

Other findings:

  • The percentage of workplaces with a health promotion program increased with the size of the employer, ranging from 39% of worksites with 10-24 employees, to 60% of worksites with 50-99 employees, to 92% of worksites with 500 or more employees.
  • Almost 30% of employers offered some type of program to address physical activity, fitness or sedentary behavior.
  • About 17% offered a program addressing obesity or weight management.

“Most American adults work, and many spend half or more of their waking hours at work,” Laura Linnan, study lead author, professor in the UNC department of health behavior, and founding director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, said in an April 22 press release. “Where we work, how long we work, the conditions of our work, who we work with – all of these factors impact our health. Employers have an opportunity to shape work environments and work conditions in ways that support employee health.”

The study was published online April 22 in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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