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Data: Employers key to workers keeping healthy New Year's resolutions (1/3)

If, like many Americans, you’ve resolved to lose weight or quit smoking in 2008, your employer may be an unexpected but useful resource to help you stay on track.

According to data compiled by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN), worksite wellness programs, including weight management and tobacco cessation initiatives, have proved successful in helping U.S. employees stay healthy while also benefiting employers’ bottom lines.

Obesity-attributable illnesses cost U.S. businesses $13 billion annually, including healthcare costs and lost productivity. According to a survey commissioned by the AAOHN, workplace weight-management programs play a pivotal role in helping employees achieve weight loss. In fact, nearly half of all respondents who claimed to participate in workplace weight-management programs reported success in reaching and maintaining their long-term goals.

Among factors employees contributed to their weight management success were workplace support groups, guidance from onsite professionals such as occupational and environmental health nurses, accessibility of onsite physical activity classes, healthier food selections in company cafeterias, and employer incentives for reaching weight-loss goals.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also supports the implementation of worksite tobacco cessation programs. For every employee who smokes, U.S. businesses will pay an average of $1,400 per year per smoker, the CDC reports. In addition, companies pay a whopping $47.2 billion in indirect costs from smoking-attributable illness and death, including absenteeism, workers’ compensation payments, accidents and fires, property damage, and secondhand smoke exposure.

“The worksite is an ideal environment in which to encourage smokers to quit,” said AAOHN President Richard Kowalski. “Employees spend so much time at work that smoke-free policies can provide the incentive they need to succeed.”

Smoking cessation support at worksites ideally includes a variety of methods and materials to meet the diverse needs of employees who smoke, the CDC cites. Employers may provide support by paying for employees to participate in smoking cessation programs, partnering with healthcare providers including insurance companies, offering referral support and providing self-help materials.

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