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Last updated: April 10. 2013 10:12PM - 1724 Views

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Helping employees get healthier and helping to curb the rising cost of health care should be priorities for all employers. And as we approach May, designated as Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, it’s the perfect time for employers to start taking a more active role in their employees’ health.


Not only will your employees and their families benefit, but your company’s bottom line can get healthier, too.


Take a look at the facts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that approximately 75 percent of employers’ health care costs come from treating chronic, but preventable, conditions brought on by obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and lack of physical activity.


It makes sense that unfit employees are sicker, and that sicker employees cost businesses more money.


According to a recent Gallup poll, unhealthy workers are costing U.S. employers approximately $153 billion annually.


But what can an employer do to remedy the situation? Instituting a strong employee health and wellness program can make a big difference in the overall health of an organization and its workforce.


In fact, the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) previously estimated that for every dollar spent on employee health initiatives, an organization can expect to see a return of $3 to $6 in reduced costs, improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and better medical insurance rates.


Encouraging health and fitness can be something as simple as providing healthier choices in the employee cafeteria, hosting presentations by health professionals, offering quick and easy blood pressure checks or starting a walk-at-lunch club.


A great way to jumpstart a walking program this year is to join companies across the country that are participating in National Walk@Lunch Day on Wednesday, April 24. Created by the BlueCross BlueShield Association, Walk@Lunch Day is designed to get people moving in a way that complements, but doesn’t compete with, today’s busy lifestyles.


Frequent, brisk walks during the work week can help decrease the risk of a heart attack and type-2 diabetes, control weight, improve muscle tone and reduce stress.


To participate, simply set aside time for your employees to walk at least 20 minutes during the day on Wednesday, April 24. Then, encourage them to keep walking during lunch in the coming weeks.


At Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BCNEPA), nearly 100 employees participated in National Walk@Lunch Day last year.


Now, more than 150 employees participate in our “Walking Wednesday” program by walking together at lunchtime every week.


Because we understand the value of employee health and fitness, many insurers offer support for workplace wellness activities for their clients.


At BCNEPA, our Blue Health Solutions program is available to all covered employers to help their employees manage chronic conditions, improve fitness or simply start down the path of a healthier lifestyle.


This spring, we encourage all local employers to make a commitment to their employees’ health -- and to their company’s health -- by implementing workplace health and wellness programs that can make a difference.


TJ Fjelseth is the vice-president, Human Resources at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.


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