Why Employers Should Invest in Community Health


By Jack Craver

Communities across the country differ radically in key health metrics, and that poses a big problem for employers in the country’s least healthy communities. A report by the Vitality Institute, a health research group, suggests that certain industries are disproportionately burdened by an unhealthy workforce because of their geographic location.

Retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and transportation and warehousing were the economic sectors identified as most likely to located in areas plagued by high rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes and low rates of physical activity.

Economic sectors that are typically located in lower-risk areas include hospitality and wholesale trade. The locations of sectors that are present in most locations –– such as educational services –– did not appear to be affected strongly by the health of their surrounding areas either way.

The report suggests that employers find ways to engage in community efforts to improve health. That means businesses across different sectors need to collaborate with nonprofits, schools and other community organizations to encourage physical fitness and healthy eating, as well as to discourage smoking and other unhealthy behaviors.

Examples of successful endeavors include the “Let’s Move! Action Schools” program that brought in money from a number of sporting goods chains –– including $50 million from Nike –– to support exercise programs in schools across the country. In another instance, the YMCA of Central Florida partnered with the Orlando health system to integrate community and clinical care for workers with the broader community.

“The factors affecting workforce health go far beyond the jobsite, the individual employee, and availability of employer-based health insurance,” Michelle Probert, manager of Integrated Health Services for General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, said in the report. “Investing in wellness efforts that reach the whole family and leverage community resources is more likely to improve employees’ physical and emotional well-being, benefit the community, improve productivity, and reduce health care costs

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