It seems that every day we hear more bad news about health, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, healthcare costs, and uninsured Americans. I just read a great AP article about employers who are doing more than just talking about improving the health of their employees. From loaning bikes to employees to making nutritious food more affordable in the cafeteria, employers are taking active steps to improve the overall health of their employees. In the long run, and as more employers get on board, perhaps these programs will have an effect on the price of health insurance.
Mounting healthcare costs are driving the changes. Employee assistance company ComPsych Corp. runs what it calls “trainwreck exercises,” in which companies compute how long they can absorb healthcare cost increases before they become unprofitable. The first client that did the exercise realized it only had 18 months. Health insurance premiums for 2006 rose 7.7 percent — twice the rate of inflation.
30 years ago, sexual harassment, indoor smoking, and discrimination in the workplace were common occurrences. The changes that have improved the work environment for so many people were not easily-won battles. Today, we have a workforce that is more sedentary than at any time in history, with 75% of workers spending their days at a desk. Since most people spend half their waking hours at work, these numbers are very significant. These employers who are on the cutting edge of incorporating physical activity and nutritious food into their employees’ workday are hopefully starting a new trend. Maybe 10 years from now, the idea of an employee spending 8 hours a day at a desk, with a couple breaks to walk as far as the vending machine and restroom, will seem as ludicrous as the thought of someone lighting up a cigarette in their office cube today.
In Colorado, we have great employer participation in Bike To Work Day every summer, and a population – employers included – that knows how to play in the great outdoors. We also enjoy the lowest rate of obesity in the nation. I look forward to seeing what changes our local employers put in place to improve employee health and eventually lower health insurance premiums for everyone.