Legislators Seek to Encourage Employers to Promote Worksite Wellness

U.S. Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced a bipartisan resolution to designate the first full week of April as "National Workplace Wellness Week." The week will serve to encourage private and public employers across the country to invest in the health of their employees voluntarily by creating worksite employee health promotion programs and by sharing their experiences to help educate other employers.

"Focusing on prevention through workplace wellness programs not only makes employees healthier but also helps to lower healthcare costs and improve the overall competitiveness of our nation's businesses," Sandlin said. "I'm pleased to introducing this resolution that encourages employers to voluntarily participate in worksite wellness programs and am optimistic that our colleagues and the president will be supportive of our efforts to keep our workforce healthy."

Boustany said, "Prevention must be one part of lowering the cost of healthcare in America, and our businesses and industries have a real stake in maintaining their competitiveness with runaway prices. I urge the president to join us in this bi-partisan effort to highlight the good work American companies are doing and to pool our ideas for others to model. This is an important first step towards lowering the cost of healthcare."

Employees benefit from health promotion in the workplace through lower out-of-pocket medical costs, a reduced risk of developing a chronic health condition, and increased satisfaction with their jobs and lives, the two legislators said. At the same time, healthy employees incur fewer medical, workers' compensation and disability costs. Some programs have achieved rates of return ranging from $3 to $15 for each dollar invested. Employees who are healthy are also more productive because they are absent less often, and are able to focus and perform better at work.

The move to designate a National Workplace Wellness Week has received support from leading advocates for improving healthcare as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"This resolution affirms that employer wellness programs are essential to promoting preventive care," said R. Bruce Josten, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president for Government Affairs. "The Chamber thanks Sandlin and Boustany for their leadership on this issue and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure swift passage of the resolution and advance the goal of promoting preventive health care in the American workplace."

Craig Thorne, M.D., MPH, national spokesperson for the American Heart Association Start! Initiative, stated: "The 'National Workplace Wellness Week' resolution is a significant first step towards the establishment of an ideal work environment that promotes healthy habits. With more than a third of working-age Americans suffering from chronic illnesses including heart disease and stroke, businesses should realize that a healthy and productive workforce will ultimately have a positive impact on their bottom line."

Start! is the American Heart Association's groundbreaking national movement that calls on all Americans and their employers to create a culture of physical activity and health to live longer, heart-healthy lives through walking. Start! (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3053031) offers free physical activity, nutrition and other health information integrated within a single online resource. It also offers resources for employers to implement a walking program in the workplace and track employees' progress in the program.

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