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Investing in Our Future: Our Children

Investing in Our Future: Our Children

It’s easier to establish healthy behaviors during childhood than having to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. Chronic conditions are becoming increasingly common among children and adolescents in the U.S. Did you know that about 1 in 4 adolescents suffers from a chronic condition such as diabetes and asthma?1

Obesity On the Rise

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The percentage of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 years who were obese increased from 7% in 1976-1980 to nearly 18% in 2011-2014. The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 21% during the same period.”1

Developed by the CDC, The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model brings together public health, education, and school health to improve health and learning. Children with chronic conditions may miss more school days which reduces their time for learning and may result in lower academic achievement. It’s important to manage these conditions effectively with the right nutrition and ample physical activity. Healthy behaviors are practices ingrained early in childhood and it’s essential that children and adolescents have a healthy school and healthy environment in order to succeed.

Physical Activity

Schools and parents can help increase the quantity and quality of physical education and physical activity during and after school hours. Benefits of physical activity have been proven to help build muscles and healthy bones, and improve strength and endurance. Physical activity can aid in managing weight, reducing stress and increasing self-esteem – which may positively impact children’s academic performance.

Diet and Nutrition

Creating healthy eating habits early in childhood life helps set the path to a healthier adulthood. Healthy eating along with physical activity help support proper growth and development and can prevent health problems such as obesity, diabetes, etc. Teaching and including children in healthy meal preparation and cooking is a great way to reinforce healthy eating habits as well.

Focus on Prevention

Did you know that:

  • 51% of all causes of death in the U.S. are attributable to lifestyle behaviors many of which are preventable through healthy lifestyle behaviors?2

  • 85% of all type 2 diabetes and its side effects are preventable?2

While some life events are out of our control and cannot be prevented, it’s clear that we can prevent many of the health problems by engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors. Schools, parents, and health care practitioners can help educate children and adolescents to make smart food choices, exercise to build strong bodies and monitor their health and any chronic conditions they may have.

Manage Chronic Conditions

To reduce school absenteeism schools, parents, and health care practitioners can help by using proven practices to better manage chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, food allergies, etc. For more information about managing chronic conditions, visit www.cdc.gov, then click on Diseases & Conditions.


References

  1. CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/healthy-schools.htm
  2. Mokdad AH, et.al. Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000. JAMA. 2004; 291:1238-1245
Raising Awareness of Rare Diseases

Raising Awareness of Rare Diseases

Seven thousand may not seem like such a big number. But 30 million definitely is. According to the National Institute of Health, about 7,000 rare diseases exist, but they affect about 30 million Americans. Looking closer at the numbers, that means about 1 in 10 Americans face such a diagnosis. Rare Disease Day, the last Day of February each year, seeks to raise awareness for these diseases to propel more research and treatment options for patients.

What is a Rare Disease?

A rare disease, also called an orphan disease, means there are less than 200,000 diagnoses annually in the United States. These diseases can consist of any kind of disorder, syndrome, condition, or cancer. For cancer cases alone, about 50% of patients are battling a rare cancer.

Unfortunately, treatments for these diseases are also seemingly rare. Only 5% have treatments currently, with less than 500 FDA-approved treatments available. But there is still hope. In the past few years, cancer research has seen a facelift with huge undertakings to accelerate the pace and bring us closer to potential cures.

The Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 Initiative, for example, is an unprecedented collaboration spearheaded by Former Vice President Joe Biden. This project’s goal is bringing together pharmaceutical companies, academics, oncology researchers, governmental agencies and more to rapidly accelerate cancer research and treatment efforts. Though this project is focused on cancer specifically, other research projects like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are working toward changing how we treat and manage all diseases; they’re working towards better prevention and treatment to hopefully eliminate such suffering. For rare diseases like mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that typically sees about 3,000 diagnoses each year, research like this provides so much hope. Many rare disease patients face poor prognoses or a lot of uncertainty with how to approach treatment, so research is crucial.

Steps You Can Take

Rare diseases are notably very difficult to diagnose, and many patients face misdiagnosis for months. Since 80% of rare diseases are genetic and about half of these diagnoses occur among children, newborn screenings are so important. Early detection can allow for life-saving intervention and treatment. If a family has a history of a disease, genetic counseling can also help evaluate and determine the potential risks of an inherited disease.

For the diseases that aren’t genetic, prevention is the best approach. Following some preventive tips, like simply adhering to a healthier diet, can greatly reduce our risk of developing certain cancers. Educating yourself and becoming more aware of preventable cancers and diseases can also be the most important step to reducing your risk. For example, mesothelioma’s only known cause is exposure to asbestos; educating yourself on asbestos and its dangers, as well as where to find it, could essentially eliminate your risk of developing those asbestos-caused diseases.

Get Involved

We can all help support patients and their families suffering from a rare disease by simply raising awareness. Being better educated can truly help save lives, and a simple tweet could inspire someone to take more preventive measures. You can also help by donating to some of the ongoing research projects mentioned above or to disease specific organizations. Funding is essential to research and making a cure a reality.

If you want to learn about other ways to get involved, be sure to check out these suggestions from the National Organization of Rare Diseases, and spread the word on Rare Disease Day and beyond!

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Article by Tonya Nelson, health advocate for the rare cancer, mesothelioma

6 Preventive Tips to Help Lower Cancer Risk

6 Preventive Tips to Help Lower Cancer Risk

Did you know that 96% of all Medicare spending is spent on chronic conditions that have lifestyle health risk factors?1 You have more control over your health than you realize! Here are a few tips to help lower your risk of most cancers and chronic conditions. Practice these habits to build lasting changes for your health and wellbeing journey.

1. Know Your Numbers

Excess body fat has been shown to increase the risk of the following cancers: colorectal, esophageal, kidney, breast (in postmenopausal women), uterine, stomach, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, ovarian thyroid, meningioma and multiple myeloma. Also, there have been suggested links to prostate cancer, breast cancer in men and non-Hodgkin lymphoma with excess weight.

Extra fat around your belly may increase health risks more so than having extra fat around your hips and thighs. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight can help lower health risks, including cancers.

A BMI (body mass index) of 18.5 to 24.9 and a waist circumference of less than 40” for men and less than 35” for women will help lower your health risks. Calculate your BMI on the CDC website.

2. Eat Healthy and Exercise

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight requires both physical activity and a healthy eating plan. Any extra physical activity and healthier food choices can make a difference in improving overall health! Always check with your physician first to confirm that a new exercise or activity will be safe for you.

Avoid packaged, processed and fast foods. If it comes in a package, look for whole food options. Examples include steel cut oats instead of packaged quick oats or homemade soup and salad for lunch. Eliminate the boxed macaroni and cheese and roast a variety of vegetables in the oven instead. For dessert try making a recipe from scratch rather than from a box or better yet choose fresh fruit instead of packaged treats.

3. Sleep Well

Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity. The light emitted from electronic devices tends to wake up the brain and decrease melatonin production. Our bodies have a great capacity to continually heal and repair cellular damage and most of this occurs at night while we are sleeping.

Turn off all electronics 15 minutes earlier each night. Try reading a book rather than watching TV. Practice meditation, prayer, deep breathing or gentle stretching or yoga to help reduce stress and increase relaxation. Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, aiming for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.

4. Cut Down or Reduce Alcohol

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. The risk of cancers, along with other health problems can increase with the amount of alcohol consumed. Along with disrupting sleep, alcohol can result in weight gain, elevate blood glucose and increase triglyceride levels in the body. For most women, no more than one drink per day and for most men, no more than two drinks per day is recommended.3

Rather than meeting a friend for a drink, skip the alcohol and go for a walk together. If you typically have two glasses of wine with dinner, have only one. If you decide to have more than one alcoholic beverage at a sitting, sip on a full glass of water in between. Instead of alcohol, choose unflavored sparkling/seltzer water, add fresh berries or fruit slices and serve it in your favorite crystal or stem ware. And if alcohol helps you to unwind before bed, try replacing it with gentle stretching or yoga, listen to relaxing music, and enjoy a soothing cup of decaf chai tea.

5. Avoid Tobacco

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. “Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers are about 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer. Smoking causes about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.”4 

Visit smokefree.gov to learn how you can quit smoking.

6. Eliminate or Reduce Chemicals

Pesticides, industrial pollutants, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and medications all contain chemical substances that can increase our risk of cancers and other health problems. The synthetic chemicals within these products can disrupt the normal functioning of our endocrine system resulting in reproductive and immune problems, obesity and increased inflammation throughout the body. Try to minimize or eliminate chemical products in your environment.

Use the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 produce lists when shopping for fruits and vegetables. 

  • Check the labels on your cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions for parabens, a chemical preservative commonly used in personal care products, that mimics the hormone estrogen and can result in a much stronger effect and more aggressive growth of some cancer cells.
  • Check out EWG’s Skin Deep website or download the app to find safer options for your favorite products.
  • Switch out plastic food storage containers for glass. And stop microwaving food in plastic. Pickle and spaghetti sauce jars work great for food storage, without any additional cost.
  • Break a sweat! Sweating through exercise or sitting in a dry sauna are great ways to remove toxins from the body. Always check with your physician first to confirm that a new exercise or activity is safe for you try.

References

1. Partnership for Solutions, Chronic Conditions: Making the Case for Ongoing Care (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2004).

2. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/867919?nlid=109048_2981&src=wnl_dne_160826_mscpedit&uac=259999BR&impID=1185765&faf=1

3. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/prevention.htm

4. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/other.htm

Journey to Better Stress Management

Journey to Better Stress Management

Stress! This one word may set your nerves on edge. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people cope with stress more effectively than others. You have the power to prevent and effectively manage stress. By doing so, you can help lower your risk for serious conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.

What is stress?

Stress is the brain’s response to change. Stress is different for everyone. Many things can cause stress and may be recurring, short-term, long-term and for example, may include your commute to work, searching for a job, or moving to a new home. Some changes are more serious than others, and for example, can include serious illness, loss of a loved one, marriage, or divorce.

How does stress affect the body?

Not all stress is bad. “Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival.”1 

Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.

When under stress you may feel:2

  • Worried
  • Angry
  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Unable to focus

Physical signs of stress include: 

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

What are the benefits of lower stress? 

Over time, chronic stress can lead to health problems and lead to chronic disease. Managing stress can help you:

  • Sleep better
  • Control your weight
  • Get sick less often and feel better faster when you are sick
  • Have less neck and back pain
  • Be in a better mood
  • Get along better with family and friends

How can I cope with stress?

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to maintain your health and outlook can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress.

  • Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities—decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly—just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress. Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.

If you or someone you know is overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional. If you or someone close to you is in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.


References:

1.National Institute of Mental Health:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml#pub3

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/manage-stress#the-basics_2

Cutting the Risk of Chronic Disease with Physical Activity

Cutting the Risk of Chronic Disease with Physical Activity

Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of these chronic diseases including high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and many more. As you age, it’s important to protect your bones, joints and muscles. Not only do they support your body and help you move, but keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy can help ensure that you’re able to do your daily activities and be physically active. Physical activity can help your thinking, learning and keep your judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression, help you sleep better and give you a longer, healthier life.

Physical Activity vs. Exercise 

  • Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles resulting in energy expenditure or simply put, moving!
  • Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement intended to improve or maintain physical fitness.

Measuring Physical Activity Intensity

The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In general, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity.

If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Examples of Moderate-Intensity: 

  • Walking fast (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Bicycling on level ground or with few hills (slower than 10 miles an hour)
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Yoga
  • General gardening
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Examples of Vigorous-Intensity: 

  • Race walking, jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Bicycling fast (10 miles per hour or faster)or on hills
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Rule of thumb: 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity.

Exercise Helps Control Weight: Exercise helps prevent excess weight gain and helps maintain weight loss. Engaging in physical activity helps you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. If you can’t do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Exercise Combats Health Conditions and Diseases: No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Regular physical activity helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and more.

Exercise Boosts Energy: Regular physical activity improves your muscle strength and boosts your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently, which gives you more energy to go about your daily chores.

Exercise Improves Mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

  • Children 6 to 17 years old: 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.
  • Adults 18 years to 64 years old: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenghtening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
    • Or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups.
    • Or an equivalent mix of moderate – and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strenthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
  • Older Adults 65 years or older: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days a week of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.)
  • Healthy pregnant or postpartum women: 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week.

Walking Is a Good Start, So, Where Do I Begin? 

The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you have not been regularly active or have a chronic illness that may limit the amount of time you exercise. Once your doctor says it’s okay, put on a pair of well-fitting sneakers and start walking!

To receive the most benefit, you should take 10,000 steps a day, which can be measured by a pedometer or by adding an app on your phone. About half of your 10,000 steps can come from everyday physical activities like walking the dog, climbing stairs (instead of taking the elevator), gardening, housework (especially sweeping, mopping or vaccuum cleaning floors), and washing your car are just a few.

How To Get Started 

  • Initial goal: Walk at a comfortable pace for about 10 minutes, three times a day 5 to 7 days per week (for ex., to a neighbor’s house and back).
  • Step it up: Walk at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes twice a day (for ex., to the end of the street and back).
  • Add distance: Walk for 15 minutes twice a day to a distance of a street and a half. (This means you have to walk a little faster to cover the increase in distance).
  • Increase frequency: Walk the new distance three times (three laps) once a day in less than 30 minutes.

Being active is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Start improving the quality of your life today and increase your life span by starting a plan to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.


References

Keep Your Heart Healthy from Heart Disease

Keep Your Heart Healthy from Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions. Communities, health professionals, and families can work together to create opportunities for people to make healthier choices.

You can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease.

To lower your risk:

  • Monitor and control your weight.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get active and eat healthy.

 Am I at risk for heart disease? 

You are at higher risk for heart disease if:

  • You are a woman over age 55
  • You are a man over age 45
  • Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
  • Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65

As you get older, your risk for heart disease and heart attack increases. But the good news is that heart disease can be prevented.

 What is heart disease? 

When people talk about heart disease, they are usually talking about coronary heart disease (CHD). It’s also called coronary artery disease (CAD). This is the most common type of heart disease.

When someone has CHD, the coronary arteries (tubes) that take blood to the heart are narrow or blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material, called plaque, build up inside the arteries.

Plaque is caused by: 

  • Fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Too much sugar in the blood (usually because of diabetes)

When plaque blocks an artery, it’s hard for blood to flow to the heart. A blocked artery can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

What is a heart attack? 

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is suddenly blocked. Part of the heart may die if the person doesn’t get help quickly.

Common signs of a heart attack include: 

  • Chest pain (or feeling pressure, squeezing, or fullness in your chest)
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body – like the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach (above the belly button)
  • Trouble breathing (while resting or being active)
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or unusually tired
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Not everyone who has a heart attack will have all the signs. Don’t ignore changes in how you feel. Signs of a heart attack often come on suddenly. But sometimes, they develop slowly – hours, days, or even weeks before a heart attack happens.

Talk to your doctor if you feel tired for several days, or if other health problems (like pain or trouble breathing) bother you more than usual. Call 911 right away if you or someone else has signs of a heart attack. Don’t ignore any signs or feel embarrassed to call for help. Acting fast can save a life. Call 911 even if you are not sure it’s a heart attack.

 Keep Your Heart Healthy

Take steps today to lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Follow the tips below to help prevent heart disease.

  1. Eat healthy and get active.
  2. Monitor and control your weight.
  3. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  4. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  5. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  6. Talk with your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  7. Manage your stress.

When it comes to your heart, what you eat matters. Follow these tips for heart-healthy eating.

  1. Eat less saturated and trans fat. Stay away from fatty meats, fried foods, cakes, and cookies.
  2. Cut down on sodium (salt). Look for the low-sodium or “no salt added” types of canned soups, vegetables, snack foods, and lunch meats.
  3. Get more fiber. Fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. To save money, buy vegetables and fruits that are in season, frozen, or canned.
  4. Look for fat-free or low-fat milk products. Or choose soy products with added calcium.
  5. For breads, cereals and grains with more than one ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first.
  6. Choose lean cuts of meat and other foods with protein.

References

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/heart-healthy-foods-shopping-list

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/keep-your-heart-healthy

How to Create Healthy Eating Habits for Life

How to Create Healthy Eating Habits for Life

An eating pattern can be defined as the combination of foods and beverages that make up an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. It represents all of what individuals habitually eat and drink, and these dietary components work together to impact health. A healthy eating habit should be tailored to the individual’s personal, cultural and traditional preferences as well as food budget. An individual’s healthy eating pattern will vary according to their calorie level. Healthy eating habits can help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient needs, and reduce risk for chronic disease. The most nutritious or nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry – all with little or no saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

  1. Create healthy eating habits across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choosing a healthy eating habit at an appropriate calorie level can help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient needs, and reduce risk for chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Create an eating habit low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.1

Key Recommendations1

Create healthy eating habits that account for all food and beverages within an appropriate calorie level and include:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups— dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Added sugars, and
  • Sodium

Several components of the diet should be limited which are of particular public health concern, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating habits within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day

If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men – and only by adults of legal drinking age.

How much should you eat?

You should eat the right amount of calories for your body, which will vary based on your gender, age, and physical activity level. Find out your daily calorie needs or goals with the Body Weight Planner by visiting www.supertracker.usda.gov/bwp.

Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods. Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less than recommended amounts.

Healthy eating patterns are adaptable. Individuals have more than one way to achieve a healthy eating pattern. Any eating pattern can be tailored to the individual’s socio-cultural and personal preferences.

Consult with your healthcare professional before making significant changes in diet and nutrition.

Tips to Save More at the Store2

Stretch your dollar with these helpful tips:

  1. Eat before you shop. Grocery shopping hungry can lead to impulse buying and unhealthy food choices.
  2. Read the sales flyer. Sales flyers are usually released mid-week and can be found at the store’s entrance, in the newspaper, or on their website.
  3. Use coupons – but only for items that you know you’ll use. If you don’t need an item right away, save the coupon and see if it goes on sale.
  4. Look up and down for savings. Stores often stock the priciest items at eye level. You can save big by looking at the upper and lower shelves too.
  5. Check for store brands. Most stores offer their own brand of products that often cost less than name brands.
  6. Choose fresh foods. Stores typically stock shelves from back to front, placing the newest items behind the older ones. Reach in the back for the freshest items especially in the produce, dairy, and meat aisles.
  7. Ask for a rain check. If a sale item has run out, ask the store for a rain check. This allows you to pay the sale price after the item is restocked.
  8. Join your store’s loyalty program. Most stores offer a free loyalty program. Get special offers and discounts that non-members do not.

References:

  1. Health.gov, Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/healthy-eating-patterns/
  2. ChooseMyPlate.gov: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget-save-more
Effects of Smoking on Your Health & Free Resources to Help You Quit

Effects of Smoking on Your Health & Free Resources to Help You Quit

Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Since the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964 more than 20 million premature deaths can be attributed to cigarette smoking. Research continues to identify diseases caused by smoking, including such common diseases as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and colorectal cancer. Additionally, exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke has been causally linked to cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases, and to adverse effects on the health of infants and children.**

CDC Risks from Smoking

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/infographics/health-effects/index.htm#smoking-risks

Smoking can cause cancer and block your body from fighting it:

  • Poisons in cigarette smoke can weaken the body’s immune system, making it harder to kill cancer cells. When this happens, cancer cells keep growing without being stopped.
  • Poisons in tobacco smoke can damage or change a cell’s DNA. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls cell growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor.*

Doctors have known for years that smoking causes most lung cancers. It’s still true today, when nearly 9 out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes. Smokers have a greater risk for lung cancer today than they did in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes. One reason may be changes in how cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain. Although cigarette smoking has declined significantly since 1964, very large disparities in tobacco use remain across groups defined by race, ethnicity, educational level, and socioeconomic status and across regions of the country.

Treatments are getting better for lung cancer, but it still kills more men and women than any other type of cancer. In the United States, more than 7,300 nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke – combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers.

Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body including: blood, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney and renal pelvis, larynx, liver, lungs, mouth and throat, pancreas, stomach, trachea, lung, and bronchus. Men with prostate cancer who smoke may be more likely to die from these diseases than nonsmokers. Smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, also causes cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, mouth and throat, and pancreas.*

How Can Smoking-Related Cancers Be Prevented?*

Quitting smoking lowers the risks for cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, and larynx. Within 5 years of quitting, your chance of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder is cut in half. 

Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk of dying from lung cancer drops by half. If nobody smoked, one of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not happen.

Quitting smoking improves the outlook (the prognosis) for people with cancer. People who continue to smoke after diagnosis raise their risk for future cancers and death. They are more likely to die from cancer than nonsmokers and are more likely to develop a second (new) tobacco-related cancer.

Help With Quitting Smoking 

For support in quitting, including free coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to local resources, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). There are also free online resources at https://www.smokefree.gov.


References:

(*) https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/cancer/index.htm

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/

(**) https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/exec-summary.pdf

Diabetes: Prediabetes, Risks, and Prevention

Diabetes: Prediabetes, Risks, and Prevention

Did you know that more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes? There are 1.4 million new cases each year alone in the U.S. In addition, 86 million Americans are living with prediabetes, the stage just before diabetes when not all the symptoms are present that warrant a diagnosis.1

Diabetes Facts and StatisticsWhat Are the Risk Factors? 

  • Age: As we age we are more at risk for developing diabetes. Specifically, being over the age of 45 puts you at higher risk.
  • Weight: Being overweight can put you at risk for diabetes. The more fat we have in our bodies the more resistant our cells are to insulin, a hormone produced by our pancreas.
  • Family History: Has anyone in your immediate family (mother, father, sister or brother) been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Race: Diabetes occurs more often in individuals who are African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino-American, and Pacific Islander backgrounds.
  • Physical Inactivity: Exercising less than 3 days a week can put you at risk.
  • History of Gestational Diabetes: Were you ever diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy? Or had a baby who weighed 9 pounds or more?
  • High Blood Pressure: Have you been told that you have high blood pressure, a reading of 140/90 or higher?
  • Low HDL Cholesterol: Is your “good” cholesterol less than 35 mg/dL?
  • Abnormal Triglyceride Levels: Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood stream. Levels of triglycerides above 250 mg/dL can put you at increased risk.

 

Are You at Risk? 

To find out if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, complete the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test on American Diabetes Association website. 

There are several ways to diagnose diabetes. Each way usually needs to be repeated on a second day to diagnose diabetes. Testing of your blood glucose levels should be carried out in a health care setting (such as your doctor’s office or a lab) and you should follow the advice and instructions of your health care professional.

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When you have prediabetes, your blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal but are not high enough to be called diabetes. Diabetes can lead to many health problems, so it’s better to prevent it in the first place. You can take steps to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and heart disease.3

How Can You Prevent or Delay Diabetes?

You can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes from developing by:

  • Cutting back on calories and saturated fat.
  • Losing weight.
  • Increasing your daily physical activity.4

If you’re overweight, losing 7% of your total weight can help you a lot. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose 14 pounds.

How Do You Decide What to Do? 

You don’t have to make big changes. Small steps can add up to big results. Talk with your health care team to make a plan. Always consult with a health care professional before starting any exercise program. A good goal for most people is:

  • Walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
  • Being more active throughout the day by parking further from the store, or taking the stairs.

Make a plan to eat less fat and calories. You can meet with a dietitian to talk about what to eat and how to lose weight. You might try:

  • Starting each dinner with a salad of leafy greens. Salad provides nutrients and fills you up. Then you might eat less of any high-calorie foods that might come later.
  • Switching from regular soda and juice to no-calorie water.

Visit diabetes.org/prediabetes to learn more about managing your prediabetes. For recipes and meal planning, visit Recipes for Healthy Living


References:

1. http://www.diabetes.org/

2. http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/adm/adm-2016-fact-sheet.pdf

3. http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/prediabetes/

4. http://professional.diabetes.org/sites/professional.diabetes.org/files/media/All_About_Prediabetes.pdf

Cervical Health Awareness & Cervical Cancer

Cervical Health Awareness & Cervical Cancer

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and there’s a lot people can do to prevent cervical cancer. HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that can cause cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected.1

Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.1

What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts.

HPV is so common that most people contract it at some point in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so it can be difficult to determine if you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.2

Other things can increase risk of cervical cancer:

  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
  • Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
  • Having given birth to three or more children.
  • Having several sexual partners.

The good news?

  • The HPV vaccine (shot) can prevent HPV.
  • Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests (called Pap tests) and follow-up care. A Pap test can help detect abnormal (changed) cells before they turn into cancer. Most deaths from cervical cancer can be prevented if women get regular Pap tests and follow-up care.

In support of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, National Cervical Cancer Coalition encourages:

  • Women to start getting regular Pap tests at age 21
  • Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12

It is recommended that teens and young adults get the HPV vaccine if they did not get vaccinated as pre-teens. Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine. Visit www.nccc-online.org to learn more.


References:

  1. https://healthfinder.gov/NHO/PDFs/JanuaryNHOToolkit.pdf
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
Create Your Healthy New Year

Create Your Healthy New Year

It’s that time of the year when we evaluate and set our health goals. Goal setting can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be. Goals help us kick off the new year and should be set throughout the year to help keep us on the path of better health.

To create a happy and healthy new year, you should identify what you want to accomplish and how you will carry out your plan. This is a very important step when planning to make positive changes that help you succeed.

 Set S.M.A.R.T. short-term and long-term goals.

  • S Specific
  • M Measurable
  • A Attainable
  • R Relevant
  • T Time-based

Short-Term Goals

Identify at least two or three of your own short-term goals and write them on the personal goal-setting worksheet. If you have more goals, write them down as well. Remember that each goal should be S-M-A-R-T—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Setting these short-term goals will help motivate you to make the program a regular part of your life.

Examples: 

  • I will talk to my doctor about starting a healthy eating program.
  • I will buy the equipment I need and get ready to exercise within 2 weeks.
  • I will schedule into my calendar 2 or 3 45-minute blocks of time for exercise each week.
  • I will invite my spouse/friend/family member to join me in these exercises.

Long-Term Goals

Identify at least two or three long-term goals and write them on the personal goal-setting worksheet. If you have more goals, write them down as well. Listing your goals will help you stay with the program, see your progress, and enjoy your success. (Remember to use the S-M-A-R-T technique.)

Examples: 

  • I will do each exercise 2 or 3 times each week. Within 3 months, I will do each exercise with 5 lb. weights.
  • I will lose 20 pounds over next 5 months, focusing on one pound per week.

4 Tips to Help You Reach Your Goals

  1. Establishing a social support network is essential for reaching your health goals. Your social support network should consist of friends, family and co-workers who know about you, your health journey and the goals you have set for yourself. They work to keep you motivated, provide support and accountability to keep you on track and moving forward toward your goal. Start by selecting a few chosen people within your social network and bring them along on your journey to a new and improved you.
  2. Setbacks are only temporary. If your goal is focused on eating better and you have a day when you get off track, don’t throw your entire plan out the window. Instead, recognize that you had a slip and focus on the areas where you could have made better choices. Record your strategies to avoiding slips in a journal or your smart phone and revisit them when you are faced with a similar situation again.
  3. Baby step your way to achieving your goals. We didn’t learn to walk in 30 days, so why should you set short timelines for yourself with big goals? Set smaller tasks that you can accomplish in a shorter amount of time that will help build your confidence toward achieving your goals.
  4. Stick to the plan. Set your goal date and stick to it. Even if you have some setbacks, keep moving toward your goal. There are always things you can do to modify your plan, but stay the course.

References

https://www.cdc.gov/phcommunities/resourcekit/evaluate/smart_objectives.html

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/

Financial Fitness: Essential to Your Employees’ Wellbeing

Financial Fitness: Essential to Your Employees’ Wellbeing

About half of Americans believe they are unprepared for a sudden financial need such as the purchase of a new car, appliance or furniture or a significant home repair, according to Gallup Daily tracking survey through 2015.1

So how can we get financially fit? How do we find balance between spending and saving – between living in the present and saving for life’s unexpected financial needs? And why is this important?

First let’s define financial wellbeing – it is defined as a state of being wherein you:2

  • Have control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances;
  • Have the capacity to absorb a financial shock;
  • Are on track to meet your financial goals; and
  • Have the financial freedom to make the choices that allow you to enjoy life.

Organizations that don’t implement financial wellbeing into their wellness programs are missing the  mark. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, money is a somewhat or significant source of stress for 64% of Americans but especially for parents of children below the age of 18 and younger adults (77% of parents, 75% of millennials, ages 18 to 35, and 76% of Gen Xers, ages 36 to 49).3

The added financial stress has a significant impact on many Americans’ lives.

“Some are putting their health care needs on hold because of financial concerns. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say that they have either considered skipping (9 percent) or skipped (12 percent) going to a doctor when they needed health care because of financial concerns.”3

Many adults are coping with health and lifestyle challenges and are beginning to recognize the connection between stress and physical and mental health.

  • Money and work remain the top two sources of very/somewhat significant stress, but in 2015, for the first time, family responsibilities emerged as the third most common stressor (54 percent).
  • The majority of adults report having at least one chronic illness (67 percent). In addition, many adults lack exercise and remain sedentary for much of the day. More than 10 percent of adults also report having a mental health-related diagnosis (13 percent for anxiety disorder and 16 percent for depression).
  • About two in five adults (39 percent) report overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress, compared to 33 percent in 2014.
  • Adults in urban areas have a significantly higher reported stress level on average than those in suburban and rural settings (urban: 5.6 on a 10-point scale, vs. 5.0 for suburban and 4.7 for rural).
  • Almost one-third of adults report that stress has a very strong or strong impact on their body/physical health and mental health (31 and 32 percent in 2015, compared to 25 and 28 percent in 2014, respectively).4

To help employees improve their financial fitness, organizations should provide financial education, programs, and other content into their wellness programs.

Here are 6 ways employees can improve their financial wellbeing:

  1. Make a simple plan to monitor and track your spending habits and to gain control over your financial decision making.
  2. Have a budget and stick to it. Set short-term and long-term goals to provide structure for your financial decision making. For example, set a spending budget for the holidays. More stuff doesn’t mean less stress.
  3. Spend some time researching before making major financial decisions to ensure you make the most-informed financial decisions.
  4. Get smart about money – Use free educational resources available at http://www.consumerfinance.gov.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to your own standards. Don’t purchase things to keep up with the Joneses. Instead think about long-term impacts of every purchase.
  6. Avoid impulse shopping. Keep your spending under control by stopping to think about whether you need that purchase or postpone the purchase to a later date if you can.

References

  1. Gallup, Inc. “Half of Americans Unprepared for Sudden Financial Need.” http://www.gallup.com/poll/188009/half-americans-unprepared-sudden-financial-need.aspx?g_source=FINANCIAL_WELLBEING&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles
  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “Financial well-being: The goal of financial education.” January 2015: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201501_cfpb_report_financial-well-being.pdf
  3. American Psychological Association. “Money Stress Weighs on Americans’ Health” 2015, Vol. 46, No.4 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/04/money-stress.aspx
  4. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/highlights.aspx
Employee Wellness Program

5 Ways to Spread Workplace Wellness

Look around and you’ll notice we are spending the greatest amount of our time at work; most full-time employees will spend over 2,000 hours at work every year, some even more. This not only minimizes the amount of time we have to spend with family and do the things that make us happy, but it also makes it more difficult to fit in the required physical activity and to make healthier nutrition choices.

We are seeing rates in health care spending on the rise – but also increased rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, hypertension, and obesity; many of these could be prevented with a few behavior modifications in our nutrition and physical activity.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends far more on health care than any other nation, yet the life expectancy of the average American is only 78.3 years, which is lower than the average and the lowest among the top health care spending nations. Chronic diseases are responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths every year in the United States, and treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86% of our nation’s health care costs.¹ Our lifestyle choices in this country are partially to blame.

Spending more on health care is not making us healthier nor bringing us longevity; we are realizing that prevention is considerably cheaper than managing any health condition and/or chronic disease. As a result, wellness is getting a lot of attention lately as we become more aware that we own our health and have complete control of our wellness.

Many businesses are adopting new approaches and beginning to implement workplace wellness programs – which are proving essential for creating and maintaining healthier, happier, hard-working employees while reducing the costs of health insurance claims, absenteeism and receiving maximum productivity in return. Happy, healthy employees are more productive. It’s nothing short of a win-win symbiosis.

So, what is a workplace wellness program? A successful workplace wellness program enables employees to increase control over, and improve, their health by offering healthier opportunities and empowering them to make healthier choices with ease.

The wellness program may offer risk assessments, screenings, flexibility for time to exercise, healthier snacking options in vending machines, behavior modification, educational and tobacco cessation programs, and much more. Access to a wellness program gives the employee the opportunity to take care of their health on a more regular basis and reduce stress. Offering incentives may also be used to encourage employee participation and increase engagement.

Here are a few low-cost tips to get you started on spreading workplace wellness and transforming your organization into one of the best places to work:

  1. Healthy Pantry Club: Start a healthy pantry stocked with healthy choices essential to a healthy diet and productivity at work. Keep it junk-food free by stocking it with healthy snacks, fresh fruits, vegetables and low-sugar, low-sodium drinks. A contribution box for employees to donate to keep the pantry stocked is a great way to get everyone involved.
  2. Fitness Trackers: Fitness trackers can encourage employees to increase their steps while being more active through participation in challenges that will keep them motivated and mindful of their health and nutrition choices. Office challenges are a fun way to increase steps and also build camaraderie. Award prizes for the top stepper, wellness champion, best effort, etc.
  3. Office Gym or Gym Memberships: Transform an unused office or space into a gym by adding yoga mats, free weights, and other fitness equipment. This helps the strapped-for-time employee fit exercise into their busy schedule. Subsidize or reimburse gym membership fees bringing fitness within reach for all employees to help create a routine they can stick with.
  4. Walking Meetings: Incorporate moving meetings to stimulate creativity and new ideas by walking around the building. Physical activity gives you energy and makes you feel more alert.
  5. Wellness Communications: Communication is the key to a successful wellness program. Get employees excited and engaged by sending wellness communications that provide ideas, strategies, short articles, tips, recipes, reminders and more. Create awareness posters and flyers to display around the office and coordinate your content with the seasons of the year, and monthly health observances.

Remember, it’s not the number of extravagant perks you offer, it’s how successful you are at fulfilling the employees’ basic human and emotional needs to foster a healthy, conscious, and happy environment that inspires employees to be their best.


Written by: Sonia Rosemond, USPM Marketing Content Designer


References:

http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/

https://data.oecd.org/healthres/health-spending.htm

http://www.oecd.org/unitedstates/Briefing-Note-UNITED-STATES-2014.pdf

http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=HEALTH_STAT

http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/health-data.htm

Healthy Workplace Healhty Performance

Can a Healthier and Safer Workforce Promote a Healthier Bottom Line for Employers?

Fabius, R; Loeppke, R; Hohn, T: et.al. “Tracking the Market Performance of Companies That Integrate a Culture of Health and Safety: An Assessment of Corporate Health Achievement Award Applicants”. JOEM. Volume 58: Number 1. Jan, 2016.

ABSTRACT:

  • Objective: To test the hypothesis that comprehensive health and safety efforts, judged separately on their merits by the CHAA, contribute to better performance in the marketplace.
  • Methods: Stock market performance of CHAA winners tracked under 6 different scenarios using simulation and past market performance.
  • Results: The results demonstrate that a portfolio of companies recognized for excellence in workforce health or safety, or both, outperform in the marketplace. When we deconstructed the CHAA process and established portfolios among the applicants and award winners that achieved threshold scores in either health or safety as well as threshold scores in both, all significantly outperformed the S&P 500 standard index companies.
  • Conclusions: This study adds to the growing evidence that a healthy and safe workforce correlates with a company’s performance and its ability to provide “healthy” returns to shareholders.

A growing body of evidence supports the notion that focusing on the health and safety of a workforce is good business. Engaging in a comprehensive effort to reduce the health risks of a workforce and mitigate the complications of chronic illness within these populations, can produce remarkable impacts on health care costs, productivity and performance.

To more objectively test this hypothesis, the stock market performance of the prior American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA) winners were tracked under 4 different scenarios. Using simulation and past market performance, a theoretical initial $10,000 investment in publicly traded award winners was tracked from 1999 to 2012.  This portfolio of publicly traded award winning companies clearly outperformed the market. Though correlation is not the same as causation, the results consistently and significantly suggest that companies focusing on the health and safety of their workforce are yielding greater value for their investors as well. More research needs to be done to better understand the value of building these “cultures of health” in the workplace. Perhaps such efforts as this simply identify “smart” companies that outperform. But the evidence appears to be building that healthy workforces provide a competitive advantage in ways that benefit their investors.

The literature is replete with examples demonstrating that the health of employees impacts their performance and productivity. Additionally, for the majority of employers who pay for the cost of health care provided to their employees there is a direct impact on the bottom line.

Consider these statistics:

  • Over 22% of working age adults surveyed reported health-related work impairment from chronic illness in the previous 30 days. Those with impairment average 6.7 lost days. This is equivalent to $2.5 billion impaired days per year.(1)
  • In a 2003 study, it was found that illness and disability reduces total work hours by approximately 8.6%, with nearly 8.7 million Americans unable to work. The loss to the U.S. economy represented about $468 billion.(2) In 2006, over $2 trillion was spent on health care with three-fourths of that amount focused on treating chronic conditions.(3)
  • In a multi-employer study by ACOEM, IBI and Dr. Kessler of Harvard Medical School, Loeppke, et.al., reported that for every dollar of medical and pharmaceutical costs spent an employer lost an additional $2.30 of health-related productivity costs. Health-related presenteeism was shown to have a larger impact on lost productivity than absenteeism, with executives and managers suffering higher losses. Co-morbidities demonstrated the largest effects on productivity loss.(4) 

These facts led to a hypothesis: Companies that envelope their employees and dependents in an environment that reinforces conscious and unconscious lifestyle choices as well as more effective accessing of healthcare, i.e. surround them with a “culture of health,” should be more productive and that productivity should be reflected in the price of their stock.

To test the hypothesis, we turned to the American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine’s corporate health awards (http://www.chaa.org/). The Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA), established in 1997, recognizes organizations with exemplary health, safety and environmental programs. Participating organizations submit a comprehensive application about their program and undergo a rigorous review by an expert panel to assess four key categories:

  1. Leadership & Management
  2. Healthy Workers
  3. Healthy Environment
  4. Healthy Organization

Awards have been given to organizations in manufacturing and service sectors, including city health departments, federal agencies and healthcare systems. Most years since inception of the award there has been at least one recipient. Most recipients have been publicly traded companies.

Since these award-winning companies are recognized for their exemplary efforts in creating a healthy workforce and since a healthy workforce generates less health care costs and improved productivity, we tested the thesis that a portfolio of these companies would outperform the marketplace.

Our results strongly support the notion that focusing on the health and safety of a workforce is good business. Engaging in a comprehensive effort to reduce the health risks of a workforce and mitigate the complications of chronic illness within these populations, can produce remarkable impacts on health care costs, productivity and performance.

Dee Edington, Ph.D., has demonstrated that companies who do not pay any attention to elevating the health status of their workforce will see their employees developing increasing health risks and health care costs.(12) His results found that non-managed workforces acquire increased health risks and conditions resulting in increased costs over time. In fact, his research found that within non-managed populations the low risk cohort diminishes by roughly 5% while the moderate and high risk segments increase by roughly 8% and 11% respectively over a three-year period. He also demonstrated that it is possible to markedly reduce this trend through the execution of risk reduction programs at the workplace.(13)

Preventive services can stem the progression of health risks, chronic conditions and medical costs. RAND Corporation estimates one fifth of all healthcare expenditures will be devoted to treating consequences of obesity by 2020. Lowering obesity rates to 1998 levels could lead to annual productivity gains of $254 billion as well as the avoidance of $60 billion in annual treatment expenditures.

Seven chronic conditions (cancer, heart disease, hypertension, mental disorders, diabetes, pulmonary conditions and stroke) are currently costing the U.S. economy alone more than $1 trillion per year. Assuming the current trend continues to 2023, it would lead to a 42% increase in cases of the seven chronic diseases for a total of 230.7 million cases of these diseases with $4.2 trillion in treatment costs and lost economic output.

Plausible estimates of potential gains in 2023 associated with reasonable improvements in prevention, detection and treatment of just those seven conditions include:

  • Preventing 40 million fewer cases of illness
  • Cutting annual treatment costs in the U.S. by $217 billion
  • Reducing annual health-related productivity losses by $905 billion
  • Yielding more than $1 trillion in labor supply and efficiency(14)

Employers can realize similar results by implementing the best efforts in prevention, early detection and evidence based treatment for their workforce and covered lives.

A critical Meta-Analysis of 22 research studies in the scientific literature published in Health Affairs in February 2010 showed that medical and pharmacy costs fall by about $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every $1 invested in wellness.(15)  This results in a return on investment of six to one.

Recognizing the merits of a healthy workforce even before this paper, ACOEM provided significant guidance. The College has stated that the marketplace has markedly underestimated the full impact of poor health in the workplace and on the economy. Employers would benefit by having a better understanding of the diseases and conditions that impact their employees and covered lives so that they could implement programs to mitigate their consequences. There is a connection between the health and safety and the productivity of workforces. Health care costs should be viewed as an investment in their employees rather than an expense. Health improvement strategies have proven to produce excellent returns. Comprehensive programs focus on primary, secondary as well as tertiary prevention.(16)

The workplace offers unique advantages for the implementation of health improvement initiatives. Roughly one quarter of our population is employed. When including retirees and family members this reach includes the majority of Americans. The workplace environment and the corporate culture can reinforce healthy behaviors. Powerful communication and educational assets can be leveraged. Incentives, penalties and mandates can be built into compensation and health benefits. Tenured employee relationships can promote sustainability. And finally employers possess the capability to measure the impact of health improvements on performance, productivity and business results.

The logic behind investing in workplace health is straight forward.

  • A large proportion of illness is preventable by reducing health risks. (17)
  • Health risks can be improved through workplace health programs. (18)
  • Reductions of health risks can lead to reductions in health costs. (19)
  • Worksite health programs can produce a positive ROI and VOI. (20,21,22,23,24)

Moreover, research supports a corporate-wide impact. Towers Watson has demonstrated that employers with highly effective health and productivity programs:

  • Generate 20% more revenue per employee
  • Realize a 16.1% higher market value and
  • Deliver 57% higher shareholder returns(25)

A recently published paper by Loeppke et al(26) emphasized the importance of integrating health promotion and health protection. This paper suggests that the CHAA assessment process should be realigned to follow the format of the DJSI. The CHAA’s current categories of measurement would be converted to mirror the DJSI’s categories, which include economic, environmental, and social metrics. This would result in an Integrated Health and Safety Index (IH&S Index).

Imagine a future scenario in which employers of sufficient size would be required or encouraged to publicly report on the degree to which they have achieved a culture of integrated health and safety. Those that report high Integrated Health and Safety Index scores could potentially be rewarded in the marketplace with greater investment as well as premium cost-reductions for group health and/or workers’ compensation insurance.

This would provide a major incentive for more companies to focus on the health and safety of their workforces and markedly aid in addressing many of the factors that are driving the American health care crisis—including the rise of chronic disease. If enough companies were able to improve and sustain the health status of their workforces, it could impact millions of Americans, providing a national tipping point in our effort to improve health outcomes and lower costs. The data in this paper suggest that such an effort might also contribute to investment-oriented opportunities and company differentiation in the marketplace.

Integrating health promotion (wellness) and health protection (safety) strategies creates synergy among these efforts, enhancing the overall health and well-being of the workforce, empowering employees to perform at the height of their potential and improving the organization’s bottom line.


References:

  1. Kessler et al. the Effects of Chronic Medical Conditions on Work Loss and Work Cutback. JOEM. 2001; 43(3):218-225.
  2. Berger, M, et al. Investing in Healthy Human Capital. JOEM. 2003; 45(12):1213-1225)
  3. Goetzel R. Do Prevention or Treatment Services Save Money? The Wrong Debate. Health Affairs. 2009; 28(1):37-41.
  4. Loeppke, R., et al., “Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy: A Multi-Employer Study”, JOEM, 51:4, April, 2009. pp 411-428.
  5. Peterson K W, Yarborough CM III, Ferguson EB, Matthew SJ. ACOEM Award: The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s Corporate Health Achievement Award.J Occup & Environ Med. 1996;38(10):969-972.
  6. Baldrige Award Winning Quality, 17th edition, by Mark Graham Brown, CDC Press, 2008.
  7. Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. [website]
  8. C. Everett Koop Award [website]
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