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OptumHealth study suggests workplace plays positive role to help employees achieve personal health goals

Pursuing a healthier lifestyle has become a top priority for a growing number of people, but even with a firm resolve to lose weight, exercise more or quit smoking, day-to-day distractions and competing commitments can make it a struggle to accomplish this goal. Add in the pressurized demands of the workplace, and it can seem even more difficult.

But the worksite can also be a huge plus, according to a new study from OptumHealth “The Positive Role of the Workplace in Helping Americans Live Healthier Lives.” Of the employees who participated in workplace health program and were able to lose weight or quit smoking, more than half said that a workplace program was very helpful.

OptumHealth commissioned GFK/Roper to conduct a study to:

  • Better understand employee views on the impact of wellness programs on their own health and productivity;
  • Understand on the job challenges to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; and
  • Assess what company programs are seen as most beneficial.

“Our purpose for this study was to examine the impact that employees feel employer sponsored wellness programs have on helping them achieve their goals” said Laura Karkula, VP of product development for OptumHealth Care Solutions.

Many participants in workplace wellness programs are making significant headway in improving their health and well being. Of the total respondents, there were 302 people who weighed 200 pounds or more before losing weight and lost at least 20 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Also included were 330 people who smoked 10 cigarettes or more per day before quitting and have been smoke-free for at least a year.

The results indicate that workplace wellness programs are broadly supported and highly valued by employees at companies that make them available. Benefits cited include being more productive on the job and feeling better able to control unhealthy behaviors while at work. For employers, these efforts can result in greater retention of top talent and positively influence how employers are perceived by employees. And a company that promotes a wellness culture can find that such a culture can help reduce medical costs over time.

Employed respondents heavily support the idea that it is vital for companies to spur workers to adopt healthier lifestyles. Nearly nine in ten (87%) believe such encouragement is an appropriate role for employers. And 84% endorse the view that the presence of workplace health and wellness programs is a sign that a company cares about its employees.

The number of companies that have implemented some kind of workplace wellness program is on the rise. About one-quarter of employed survey respondents say that their employer is promoting employee health more than they were in the past, while nearly two-thirds say the emphasis is the same as in years past.

Of the employees surveyed, nearly half (48%) say their companies place some emphasis on worker health issues and 12% feel there’s considerable focus on this point.

Trying to live healthier can be challenging because of the constant pressure to succeed and perform at work. Only 36% of employed respondents say they have a lot of control over their health priorities while at work.

Almost half of employed respondents say that having “too little time” is one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining a healthier regimen at work. Over one-third point to too much stress at work and one in five say their job is too demanding to allow them to focus on healthful choices. When it comes to eating, 33% say there are too many unhealthy foods around for them to live a healthy lifestyle in the workplace.

The idea of rewarding employees to encourage them to take part in company wellness programs by reducing their health insurance premiums was viewed positively. Fully half of the respondents said that this was very likely to get them involved. And another 36% said it would be somewhat likely to have an impact.

The atmosphere at a company and the degree to which it promotes a culture of wellness in the workplace is just as important to workers as the health-related programs that might be available to them. For example, 92% of employees in organizations that promote employee health feel they have at least some control in maintaining a healthy lifestyle while at work.

“Clearly, employees of companies that emphasize employee health recognize that these programs can have a positive impact on their health,” according to Annie Weber, senior vice president and general manager at GFK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. “Additionally, we see evidence in this research that creating a wellness-friendly environment can enhance employee’s feelings about employers. And many employees themselves feel these programs can lead to better retention and improved productivity.” EBN readers can review the study’s full results in a recording of a recent Webinar that OptumHealth produced on this topic called “The Positive Role of Wellness Programs in the Workplace.” To access the Webinar, please visit

For more information, please contact OptumHealth at

The OptumHealth survey was conducted online from March 24 to April 7, 2010. Completed surveys were obtained from 1,444 adults, residing in the United States. This includes a base sample of 1,003 respondents from the general population of online Americans and includes oversamples of 302 people who weighed 200 pounds or more before losing weight, lost at least 20 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year; and 330 people who smoked 10 cigarettes or more before quitting and have been smoke free for at least a year.



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