Making the Workplace a More Effective Site for Prevention

By Katie Tryon

A significant proportion of the burden of major noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and some mental illnesses – are preventable by addressing risky health behaviors such as tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets, and managing biometric risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels, high blood lipid levels).

Efforts to realize the potential of health promotion and disease prevention in the United States (US) have fallen behind those in peer countries. Americans live shorter lives and experience more illnesses, despite significantly greater healthcare spending by the US than by any other country; median per capita spending among all OECD countries in 2009 was $3223, less than half the $7960 per capita spent in the US.

Employers in the US are well positioned to use prevention to influence the health of 155 million working-age Americans and to see significant financial benefit in doing so. In the paper published in JOEM today, we examine key obstacles to increasing investment in workplace prevention and ensuring the greatest impact for the business of this investment, notably:

  1. Limited leadership and advocacy both inside and outside businesses
  2. Poor alignment between financial incentives for businesses and the investment in disease prevention
  3. Limitations in research quality and investment
  4. Regulation that does not support evidence-based practice
  5. Dearth of partnerships between communities and employers

For business and society to see the benefits of workplace prevention, it is imperative to tackle these key issues. Our recommendations include:

  • Routine inclusion of employee health status metrics within financial reports and improved workplace prevention training of senior executives and managers who implement workplace prevention initiatives, to build stronger leadership and advocacy within government, business, and employee groups
  • Improved incentives from government for businesses to invest in workplace prevention programs
  • More investment in better research, including longer term longitudinal studies with independently verifiable metrics, and research into integration and implementation within businesses
  • Adjustment of government regulation to support the use of evidence-based practice
  • Creation of better linkages between workplace and community-based programs to achieve common goals

Encouraging employers to invest in effective workplace prevention will result in benefits to their bottom lines at the same time as it makes the workplace a central component of the national strategy to combat the impact of NCDs.

Find out more about what the Vitality Institute does to promote such practices by browsing our Commission Recommendations, or by following us on social media @VitalityInst.

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