April 5, 2014

New research suggests "7-A-Day" saves lives

For years, nutritionists and global health authorities have been conducting a "Five a Day" campaign to highlight the health benefits of eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. The 5 A DAY campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organization, which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

But some scientists are now questioning whether this recommendation goes far enough. Recent research from Great Britain shows that increasing the daily fresh fruit and vegetable intake to 7 portions a day may yield significantly more health benefits. University College London researchers analyzed the diets of 65,226 men and women based on data from the Health Survey for England from 2001-2008.

"The study looked at general mortality as well as death from cancer, heart disease and stroke, and found risk of premature death from any cause decreased as fruit and veg consumption increased.
Risk of death by any cause over the course of the study was reduced by 42% for seven or more (up to around 10 portions a day)
Fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, followed by salad and then fruit.
Fruit juice conferred no benefit, while canned fruit appeared to increase the risk of death - possibly because it is stored in sugary syrup, say the researchers."

Not all researchers agree or think that the current 5-A-DAY guideline should be changed. Some don't find the study conclusive; Others think that additional lifestyle factors were not weighted heavily enough. Some fear that the message of 7 portions a day might be daunting to the public. Despite any differences on these matters, one thing is clear: adding more fresh vegetables and fruits to the daily diet yields positive health benefits.


More on the research:

Seven-a-day: Michael Mosley's guide to reaching the target

Fruit and vegetable intake: five a day may not be enough, scientists say

Seven simple ways to get your seven-a-day

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

March 29, 2014

Wellness Focus for April: Tools & Links for Your Communications

The following are health promotions for April that offer themes for your workplace wellness programs. Most of the linked sites offer tool-kits with posters, articles, and interactive features that can be shared with your employees.

Alcohol Awareness Month and from the NCADD: "Help for Today. Hope For Tomorrow"
In conjunction with this, April 10 is National Alcohol Screening Day.

National Minority Health Month
Theme: Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.

National Autism Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month

Youth Sports Safety

STD Awareness Month

Weekly Observances

7-11: National Work Zone Awareness Week
Theme: "Work Zone Speeding: A Costly Mistake"

7 - 13: National Public Health Week

26-5/3: National Infant Immunization Week

Day Observances

7 - World Health Day
Theme: Preventing and controlling vector-borne disease

24 - World Malaria Day

28 - Workers' Memorial Day


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 23, 2014

March Health & Wellness Observances

National Nutrition Month
National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2014 is "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right." Accoring to AND, "Consumer research confirms that taste tops nutrition as the main reason why one food is purchased over another. While social, emotional and health factors also play a role, the foods people enjoy are likely the ones they eat most." This year's theme will focus on how to combine taste and nutrition to create healthy meals that follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but many people are not being screened according to national guidelines.

Protecting Vision in the Workplace
"The use of digital devices, including personal computers, tablets and cell phones, continues to increase. And, the impact of prolonged usage can often be felt in the eye. In fact, because of extended use of these devices, close to 70 percent of American adults experience some form of digital eyestrain, according to a new report from The Vision Council. Symptoms of digital eyestrain can include dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches."

Prevent Blindness suggests these tips for preventing eyestrain and fatigue.

  • Visit an eye doctor for a dilated eye exam to make sure you are seeing clearly and to detect any potential vision issues.
  • Place your screen 20 to 26 inches away from your eyes and a little bit below eye level.
  • Use a document holder placed next to your computer screen. It should be close enough so you don’t have to swing your head back and forth or constantly change your eye focus.
  • Adjust the text size on the screen to a comfortable level.
  • Change your lighting to lower glare and harsh reflections. Glare filters over your computer screen can also help.
  • Use a chair you can adjust.
  • Choose screens that can tilt and swivel. A keyboard that you can adjust is also helpful.
  • The Vision Council recommends the 20-20-20 break: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.

American Diabetes Association Alert Day
This is held on the fourth Tuesday of every March - Tuesday, March 25. Take the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test - it's free, it only takes 60 seconds and it could save your life. Here are some ways to lower your risk.

Other Observances

National Kidney Month

Red Cross Month

2-8 - National Severe Weather Preparedness Week

​2-9 - ​National Sleep Awareness Week

3-7 - National School Breakfast Week

16-22 - National Poison Prevention Week

24 - World TB Day


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 14, 2014

A Valentine for 365 Days of the Year


Here's a great Valentine's Day gift for sweethearts everywhere: Take the Heart Health IQ Quiz. It's quick, it's simple, and it offers some good tips you may not know. And really, with heart disease being the nation's leading cause of death for both men and women, The Heart Health Quiz could be a gift for all seasons - it doesn't have to be Valentine's Day to care about your loved one's health - or your own!

If you have a wellness program, an employee newsletter or an organizational intranet, it's a great link to share: www.theheartproject.com/

Here's a few other heart health resources:

Getting Healthy: the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations

Heart Disease Fact Sheet

Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

February 1, 2014

February Health & Wellness Observances

American Heart Month - Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Who’s at risk for heart disease? A. Woman age 55 or older and men age 45 or older. Learn the warning signs of heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 right away. To improve your heart health:

  • Get Screened
  • Watch Your WeightEat Healthy
  • Quit Smoking
  • Be Active
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women -- more deadly than all cancers combined. For more than ten years, the American Heart Association has also designated February as Go Red for Women / Heart Month.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month - it is estimated that 1 in 10 teens will be hurt intentionally by someone they are dating. While this type of abuse cuts across lines of age and gender, young women are disproportionately affected by both dating violence and sexual assault. In 2010, the Justice Department and the Senate designated the entire month of February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and it has continued through the present. To learn more about this issue, see Teen Dating Violence: A Closer Look at Adolescent Romantic Relationships, a 2008 report from the National Institute of Justice.

Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. TeenDVmonth.org, hosted by Break the Cycle, is the online hub for all national activities and promotion of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in February, as well as the home of Break the Cycle and loveisrespect's annual public awareness campaign for TDVAM. The website offers resources for youth, adults and communities that want to plan awareness-raising activities in February.

February 14 National Donor Day - Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. However, an average of 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs. As of today, 121,121 people are waiting for an organ - that's enough to fill a large football stadium. By becoming a donor, you may save up to 8 lives. Here are some helpful resources:
Why become a Donor
State Organ and Tissue Donor Registries
Workplace Partnership Materials

Other Health and Wellness issues in February include:

National Children's Dental Health Month
National Cancer Prevention Month
February 2-8 Burn Awareness Week
February 1–7 African Heritage & Health Week


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

To commemorate American Heart Month in February, we offer this infographic from the American Heart Association on Risk Factors for Heart Disease. View a text version at this link: What are my risks for getting heart disease? Click for the original - it would be a great poster to print for your bulletin board or to hand out to employees this month.

Click the image for a larger version


January 11, 2014

Got a meeting? Take a walk

In this short TED talk, business innovator Nilofer Merchant offers a simple but compelling idea to reduce the hazards of a sedentary lifestyle and to improve your personal health and well-being. When we heard this talk, we were struck by how easy it would be to adopt in many workplaces, too. It comes down to this: Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it into a "walking meeting" -- and let ideas flow while you walk and talk. Listen to Merchant explain how it made a difference in her life.

Alternate link and transcript: at Ted Talks.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

January 4, 2014

Start the new year off with a January focus on wellness

Here are some January-focused wellness tools that you can use in your employee communications or share with your employees.

January is a month for getting health habits back on track after any holiday slippage. Getting healthy after over-indulging during the holiday season may not be easy at first, but it can be done. Here are some suggestions on cutting calories and being active. The CDC offers tips: Resolve to Undo Holiday Overindulgences

Get inspiration for a healthy new year via profiles of three ordinary people who changed their health habits—and their lives. They lost weight, became active, gained energy, and grew in self-confidence. Here are their stories and tips for making healthy living easier. They say if they can do it, you can too!

Here are some other tools:

January Health Observances
Here are other focus areas for January health & wellness

Cervical Health Awareness Month - Cervical Health Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. Get a toolkit (PDF) from the CDC or more information from the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.

National Birth Defects Prevention Month - The theme is "Birth defects are common, costly, and critical.” The National Birth Defects Prevention Network provides various resource materials to promote birth defects awareness and prevention. January 6 - 12 is also National Folic Acid Awareness Week - learn how folic acid can help prevent birth defects.

National Glaucoma Awareness Month - Today, more than 2.7 million Americans ages 40 and older have open-angle glaucoma. With the population of older Americans continuing to increase, these numbers will only grow.

National Radon Action Month - Learn more about the national effort to take action against radon to protect home and health.

National Stalking Awareness Month

National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month

Thyroid Awareness Month

Jan. 27 - Feb. 2 - National Drug Facts Week - a health observance week for teens that aims to shatter the myths about drugs and drug abuse.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 30, 2013

December health & wellness observances

December is a big holiday month so a good focus for any wellness initiatives would be tips for stress reduction and healthy eating, as well as the importance of personal safety while celebrating, shopping and driving. Here are a few national initiatives designated for the month of December.

Handwashing Awareness = Since 1999, the first week of December is Handwashing Awareness Week - and since it's right in the middle of flu season, it's a timely reminder. Henry the Hand has been a tireless ambassador in carrying a serious message: the importance of hand-washing in preventing the spread of illnesses and infectious diseases. Henry is the brainchild of a Dr. William sawyer, an international expert in hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. He employees the friendly, humorous mascot of Henry the Hand to carry frank talk about the spread of germs to kids and their parents.

The 4 Principles of Hand Awareness are simple but effective:
1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating
2. DO NOT cough into your hands
3. DO NOT sneeze into your hands
4. Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth

National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, 2013 - Typically, about 1,000 people are killed in alcohol related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) targets this high-risk time with an annual campaign to raise awareness about and prevent drunk driving over the holiday season. MADD invites all Americans to put a red ribbon or window decal on their vehicles as a pledge to drive safely, soberly, and with seat belts buckled during the holidays and throughout the year. Seat belts are an important aspect of the safety message because a buckled seat belt is the best defense against a drunk driver. Employers can support and reinforce this message throughout the month and can incorporate safe practices in any holiday celebrations.

And speaking of driving safety, do you conduct an annual review of license status for all employees that have driving as an essential job task? If not, that might be a good resolution for early in the new year.

December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month - a fitting focus since it is also the largest gift-giving month. Safe Kids USA offers a comprehensive site on toy safety, with tips, buying guides, and lists of recalls. ToyInfo.org is a toy industry sponsored site that also offers buying information and tips. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a good source of Toy Safety Guides and recalls. Prevent Blindness offers two downloadable PDFs: Facts About Toy Injuries and Tips for Choosing Safe Toys.

World AIDS Day, December 1 is World AIDS Day, with a 2013 theme being " Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” In reality, every day is a good day to communicate about AIDS and AIDS prevention. This is a serious health issue that has slipped off the radar for many - so much so that recent research shows an alarming rise in unprotected sex.

The CDC offers comprehensive resources on treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, with everything from multilingual fact sheets to information on clinical trials, vaccines, various health topics, and information for various special populations such as teens and seniors. They also offer HIV resources for the workplace.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 15, 2013

The healing properties of laughter

Laughter is a great stress buster and tension reliever - so much so that many medical professionals point to laughter and humor as having pain reduction and healing properties. Like yawning, it also seems to be contagious. There's no doubt that it's social - we see examples every day of how one person's laughter can spread from person to person, even to a large group.

The non-profit HelpGuide.org offers a great article on the health benefits of humor and laughter: Laughter is the Best Medicine. They list the following benefits to laughter.

Physical Health Benefits:

  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease
Mental Health Benefits:
  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Enhances resilience
Social Benefits:
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Enhances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

This excellent article also includes tips for adding more humor and laughter into your life, developing your sense of humor, using humor and play to overcome challenges and to enhance your life. Check it out.

Meanwhile, we offer a video clip on laughter to get you started.

LAUGHS! from Everynone on Vimeo. Directed by Daniel Mercadante, music by Lullatone. This was made completely of clips found on the web.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 3, 2013

Flu Vaccine Finder & Other Flu Tools

The Centers for Disease Control say that the flu vaccine is the best defense against seasonal flu. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu vaccine location near you.

If you'd like to put these widgets on your website or your portal, you can get the codes here: Flu Widgets and Badges

Flu resources for your business

Flu resources for healthcare providers

Flu resources for schools & childcare Providers

Flu resources for the general public

November 1, 2013

Wellness Themes & Resources for November

National Family Caregivers Month
According to the Caregiver Action Network:

  • "Two out of every 5 adults are family caregivers. 39% of all adult Americans are caring for a loved one who is sick or disabled – up from 30% in 2010
  • Alzheimer’s is driving the numbers up. More than 15 million family caregivers are providing care to more than 5 million loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease
  • But it’s not just the elderly who need caregiving. The number of parents caring for children with special needs is increasing, too, due to the rise in cases of many childhood conditions
  • Wounded veterans require family caregivers, too. As many as 1 million Americans are caring in their homes for service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other wounds and illnesses
  • And it’s not just women doing the caregiving. Men are now almost as likely to say they are family caregivers as women are (37% of men; 40% of women). And 36% of younger Americans between ages 18 and 29 are family caregivers as well, including 1 million young people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s

November is also Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer's Association also offers tools for caregivers. Both sites offer information, links, and resources.

American Diabetes Month
The American Diabetes Association says, that "Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion."
Their site offers materials that you can download and use with employees, including fact sheets, newsletter inserts, posters and PowerPoints in English and in Spanish,

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, "Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Approximately 279,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually, and more than 266,000 die from the
disease. The five year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is just 6 percent in the United States...Pancreatic cancer can strike both men and women. Few risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer are defined. There are no early
detection methods, few effective treatment options and there is no cure."
The links above offer support resources, advocacy, information and survivor stories.

COPD Awareness month
The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that, "Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. The disease kills more than 120,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 death every 4 minutes—and causes serious, long-term disability. The number of people with COPD is increasing. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it."
NIH suggests four things you can do and offers resources to help:
1. Be aware of the risk factors
2. Recognize the symptoms
3. Ask your doctor or health care provider about a simple breathing test
4. Follow treatment advice
Another good resource is the American Lung Association.

Other health observances in November
Epilepsy Awareness Month

November 6 - National Eating Healthy Day

November 14 - World Diabetes Day

November 21 - Great American Smokeout
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet about 43.8 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — nearly 1 in every 5 adults. As of 2010, there were also 13.2 million cigar smokers in the US, and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes — other dangerous and addictive forms of tobacco.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

October 3, 2013

October Wellness Focus: Breast Cancer Awareness


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) - a collaboration of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and provide greater access to services. Although October is designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NBCAM is dedicated to raising awareness and educating individuals about breast cancer throughout the year.

Many major cancer and healthcare organizations partner in this NBCAM so you can visit individual sites of participating partners for additional resources on breast cancer.

Risk Factors
Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. A family history or genetic factors can also increase the risk. The risk also increases as women age - about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older. There are many additional risk factors - learn more about breast cancer risk factors.
Also see: Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. They recommend clinical breast exams (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s, and say that women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
Find a low cost screening location near you:
National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP)

See also:
Mammography Saves Lives
Mammography Facts

Breast Cancer Prevention
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offer best practices for prevention.

  • Get screened for breast cancer regularly. By getting regular exams, you're more likely to find breast cancer early.
  • Control your weight and exercise. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day. Stay active. Learn more about keeping a healthy weight and ways to increase your physical activity.
  • Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor what is your risk of getting breast cancer and how you can lower your risk.
  • Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy. Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat the symptoms of menopause. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT and find out if it is right for you. To learn more about HRT, visit the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Additional resources
Study Links Walking to Lower Breast Cancer Risk - Researchers from the American Cancer Society have found that walking at least 7 hours per week is associated with a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. This finding is consistent with many other studies that show regular exercise can help women lower their risk of breast cancer. New information in this study found the exercise helped women whether or not they were overweight, and helped them even if they gained weight during the study.

Mayo Clinic: Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk - Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits — such as limiting alcohol and staying physically active. Understand what you can do to reduce your breast cancer risk.

September 22, 2013

Let's Make Our Day Harder

In a quick and entertaining video short, Doctor-Professor Mike Evans suggests that we start movement. Not "a movement" but just movement. To improve our health, he suggests we all add a little low-tech into our high tech days and offers some tips for how and why we should all make our day harder.

Dr. Evans is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital.

If you enjoyed this video clip, be sure to check out his prior highly acclaimed clip, What is the single best thing we can do for our health?


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

September 16, 2013

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

In this new TED talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal looks at some of the latest research on stress and has some fresh new insight: it may not be stress that is as bad for us as the way we respond to it. She urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

For transcriptions, translations, and comments, visit this this talk at the Ted site: Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

September 13, 2013

Get a move on: Sitting is a lethal activity

In a New York Times article Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? James Vlahos looks at inactivity and its related health dangers. He notes that:

"Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives."

With this in mind, we were delighted to find this short video that talks about the dangers of extended sitting and the importance of good posture. It's short, it's well done, and it's shareable.

Office Posture Matters: An Animated Guide from Flikli on Vimeo.

In the Vlahos article cited above, he observes that -- contrary to conventional wisdom -- extended periods of sitting are as bad for thin people as for obese people.

"Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”

The good news is that inactivity’s peril can be countered. Working late one night at 3 a.m., Dr. Levine coined a name for the concept of reaping major benefits through thousands of minor movements each day: NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In the world of NEAT, even the littlest stuff matters. McCrady-Spitzer showed me a chart that tracked my calorie-burning rate with zigzagging lines, like those of a seismograph. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to one of the spikes, which indicated that the rate had shot up. “That’s when you bent over to tie your shoes,” she said. “It took your body more energy than just sitting still.”

In other words, it's not just the big exercises that matter, the little things can have an effect too. With this in mind, get your sedentary workers moving. Encourage "NEAT-ness" in your workplace - urge people to walk down the hall to deliver the message in person rather than clicking that email; to stand up and walk when taking a call; to take the stairs instead of the elevator; to get up often to sharpen a pencil, empty a wastebasket, or get a glass of water. Exercise is important, but motion matters too.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

August 16, 2013

Inspiration of the Week: Arthur's Transformation

Arthur Boorman was a disabled veteran of the Gulf War for 15 years, and was told by his doctors that he would never be able to walk on his own, ever again. This is his story.

July 23, 2013

Get Ready for Obamacare

Looking to get up to speed on the Affordable Care Act? Here's a an under 7-minute animation from the Kaiser Family Foundation that offers a good overview for you and your employees: The Yootoons Get Ready for Obamacare about "health insurance changes coming your way under the Affordable Care Act.

If your organization blocks YouTube videos, try this alternate viewer.

Up-to-date profiles - where states stand on health exchanges

Get Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Affordable Care Act: Information Toolkit

Understanding the Affordable Care Act

June 29, 2013

Wellness Focus for July: Summer Safety

July is a quiet month for national health campaigns, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of health & safety messages that you should be talking about with your employees - for health & wellness both on and off the job. One key summer issue very much in evidence for much of the country over the past week is staying safe in extreme heat.

Here are some tools and resources that you might share with your employees:

Heat Safety App from the Department of Labor
When working in the heat, safety comes first. The OSHA Heat Safety Tool offers vital safety information right on a mobile phone. The App allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. Then, with a simple "click," you can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers

  • The Educational Resources section links to information about heat illnesses and how to prevent them. Many of these resources target vulnerable workers with limited English proficiency and/or low literacy.
  • The Using the Heat Index section provides guidance to employers to develop a heat illness prevention plan.
  • The Training section includes a guide/lesson plan for employers and others to use in instructing workers on heat illness. There are links to additional resources in other languages.
  • The Media Resources section includes news releases, public service announcements (PSAs), drop-in articles about heat illness prevention that you can customize to share and campaign artwork.
  • The Fatality map shows locations of outdoor worker, heat-related fatalities between 2008 and 2012. It is not an exhaustive list of all worker fatalities from heat exposure. The map provides a geographic reminder that Water.Rest.Shade. are vital to providing a safe and healthful environment when working outdoors in the heat.

Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers

NIOSH Heat Stress
This site covers on-the-job prevention, symptoms, and treatment for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash

Other summer worker safety issues:

Young Worker Safety
Hazards to outdoor workers

Off the job: Family summer health & safety issues

Heat is also an important health and safety issue for your employees when they are off the job and with their families. Here are some useful links:

Other summer safety resources include:


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

June 16, 2013

Sleeping on the job

Last week, one of the alternate jurors in the Whitey Bulger trial became a Twitter sensation when he fell asleep during opening statements in the first day of the trial. He is not alone in nodding off on the job - in a recent article on workers falling asleep on the job, Quentin Fottrell offers more recent examples. He cites a 2011 Harvard Medical Study that puts the cost of insomnia at $2,280 per worker per year in reduced productivity, equating to 11 work days lost per worker.

He suggests that longer hours, staying connected 24/7 and stress are contributing factors to this problem. Family issues such as a new baby or caretaking may also contribute to fatigue. And of course, isolated incidents of sleepiness might just be the result of staying up too late - many employers gird for a drop in productivity with the so-called "Super-Bowl effect" on the Monday following the big game.

Fatigue may also be related to the nature of the work, such as repititious work, late night shifts, or long shifts. Experts refer to the syndrome of Shift Work Sleep Disorder and point to numerous high-profile fatal accidents in which sleeping on the job or sleep deprivation were cited as major factors. Sleepiness on the job may also be related to illness or a health condition, poor nutrition, lack of exercise.

Some companies are addressing the problem by having napping rooms or encouraging power naps. And the sleepy people themselves are concerned and grappling with the issue. Sleep seekers spend millions each year buying noise machines, pharmaceuticals and better pillows. What really works? 10 things the sleep-aid industry won’t tell you offers a fascinating and dare we say eye-opening look at these "solutions" and suggests:

"...doctors say some of the most effective techniques for improving sleep — such as exercising, not eating before bed, limiting screen time at night and getting natural light in the morning — are free. The Consumer Reports analysis also recommended behavioral therapy, including relaxation techniques and limiting time in bed, for people with chronic insomnia. “The best solution is to make sure that you follow the rules of biology,” says Dr. Larry Kline, medical director for the Viterbi Family Sleep Center at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego."

The prevalence of fatigue on the job is just another reason why wellness programs are so important. In addition to addressing contributing factors such as diet, nutrition, and inactivity, a good wellness program should also offer resources for stress reduction and relaxation.

For more resources on sleep and fatigue, see:


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

May 31, 2013

Wellness Themes & Resources for June

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month - The United States Department of Agriculture provides a variety of tools posters, informational resources and more to help you promote June as National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. Find out what's in season this spring and summer and get recipes, posters, clip art, nutritional information and more to promote fresh, healthy eating.

Men's Health Awareness - June is Men's Health Month, with June 10 – 16 designated as Men's Health Week. The purpose of the focus on Men’s Health is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. It is also Men's Health/Cancer Awareness Month. The cancers that most frequently affect men are prostate, colon, lung, and skin cancers. Knowing about these cancers and how they can be prevented or found early can save lives.

National Safety Month - The National Safety Council is encouraging businesses and communities across the country to participate in National Safety Month, an annual observance to increase awareness of the top causes of preventable injuries and deaths and to encourage safe behaviors. Free materials, including posters and tip sheets, are available to help spread important safety messages.
Each week in June will highlight a different leading cause of unintentional injury and death:

  • June 1 to 4 - Summertime Safety
  • June 5 to 11 - Preventing Overexertion – the third-leading cause of unintentional injuries treated in emergency departments.
  • June 12 to 18 - Teen Driving Safety – Each year, more than 5,500 people are killed in crashes involving teen drivers.
  • June 19 to 25 - Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls – Falls are one of the nation’s leading causes of unintentional injuries treated in emergency departments.
  • June 26 to 30 - On the Road, Off the Phone – Motor vehicle crashes remain the nation’s leading cause of unintentional death. NSC estimates 23% of all motor vehicle crashes involve cell phone use behind the wheel.

Cataract Awareness Month - PreventBlindness.org has designated June as Cataract Awareness Month - cataracts are a leading cause of blindness among older adults in the United States. More than half of all Americans have cataracts by the time they are 80 years old.

Fireworks Safety - Leading up to and including July Fourth celebrations, fireworks-related injuries peak. Fireworks Safety Month is marked from June 1 through July 4. Here's a Fireworks Safety infographic to promote awareness.

Specific Dates
June 2 - National Cancer Survivors Day - From family members to close friends, everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by cancer. On Sunday, June 2, 2013, thousands of people around the world will gather to observe the 26th annual National Cancer Survivors Day.

June 19 - World Sickle Cell Awareness Day - World Sickle Cell Day was created by the United Nations by resolution.
and is recognized globally on June 19. Sickle cell is one of the world’s foremost genetic diseases that has severe physical, psychological and social consequences for those affected. Find resources, activities, and blood drives.

June 23 – 29 - National Lightening Safety Awareness Week - whether at home or at work, it's important to take lightning seriously and to know when and what precautions to take to stay safe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service offers excellent resources.

June 27 - National HIV Testing Day - access fact sheets and circulate information about local HIV testing sites.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

April 25, 2013

Wellness Focus for May: Physical Fitness, Biking, Mental Health, Melanoma, & More

The following are health promotions for May that offer themes for your workplace wellness programs. Most of the linked sites offer tool-kits with posters, articles, fact sheets, or interactive features that can be shared with your employees.

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and it's also National Bike Month, which ties in nicely. Bike Month can be fun to celebrate at work and at home. It has the double bonus of promoting both a healthy activity and one that is friendly to the environment. May 13 to 17 is Bike to Work Week, with May 17 designated as Bike to Work Day. Here's a step-by-step Bike Month Guide (PDF) offering ideas for how to promote or support the effort in the workplace. And for family members, there's also Bike to School Day on May 8.

Mental Health Month - This year's theme is Pathways to Wellness, with emphasis on the link between physical and mental health. "The fact is our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists between our emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health. Whatever our situation, we are all at risk of stress given the demands of daily life and the challenges it brings-at home, at work and in life. Steps that build and maintain well-being and help us all achieve wellness involve a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness, and connections to family, friends and community." The linked site has a Toolkit with posters, fact sheets, and more.

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month - Skin cancer will affect 1 in 5 Americans, and more than 3.5 million new cases in 2 million people are diagnosed each year. People of all colors and races can get skin cancer. There are many different types of skin cancer, but melanoma is the most deadly. With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for the most common types of cancer is high, and if melanoma is detected before it spreads, it also has a high cure rate.Why not point your employees and their family members to a free skin cancer screening. A skin cancer screening is a visual inspection of your skin by a medical professional. No blood work is conducted at a screening.

May 5 to May 11 is North American Occupational Safety and Health Week - Here's a fun and simple way to acknowledge it - simply print out the winners of the 2013 Safety on the Job Kids' Poster Contest Winners - they are cute and good reminder why we all want to be safe at work - to return safely to families and kids!

NAOSH 2013 from jon schwerman on Vimeo.

Other Health Observances in May


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 29, 2013

Wellness Focus for April: Public Health, High Blood Pressure, Alcohol Awareness & More

The following are health promotions for April that offer themes for your workplace wellness programs. Most of the linked sites offer tool-kits with posters, articles, and interactive features that can be shared with your employees.

We kick off the month with National Public Health Week , April 1-7. This year's theme is "Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money." The 2013 NPHW theme was developed to highlight the value of prevention and the importance of public health systems in preventing disease, saving lives and curbing health care spending. For employers, there are resources devoted to creating a healthy workplace.

April 7, 2013 is World Health Day.
The theme for 2013 is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure. The proportion increases with age, from 1 in 10 people in their 20s and 30s to 5 in 10 people in their 50s. High blood pressure is a contributing factor to heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure can cause blindness, irregularities of the heartbeat and heart failure. The risk of developing high blood pressure can be reduced by: reducing salt intake; eating a balanced diet; avoiding harmful use of alcohol; taking regular physical activity; maintaining a healthy body weight; and avoiding tobacco use.

April Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. This years theme is "Help for Today. Hope For Tomorrow." The goal is to increase public awareness and understanding aimed at reducing the stigma that too often prevents individuals and families from seeking help. The site provides a variety of resources and tools, In addition, Healthfinder.gov offers an National Alcohol Screening Day - Screening for Mental Health offers alcohol screening programs for the military, colleges and universities, community-based organizations and businesses. Take an online screening or find locations for screenings in your state.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month - IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States (10 to 15% of the population). About 2 in 3 IBS sufferers are female. About 1 in 3 IBS sufferers are male. IBS affects people of all ages, even children.

National Autism Awareness Month - Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. The prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 88 births in the United States and almost 1 in 54 boys.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month - Prevention is the best hope for reducing child abuse and neglect and improving the lives of children and families. Strengthening families and preventing child abuse requires a shared commitment of individuals and organizations in every community. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers tools, tip sheets, videos and more.

Other observances in April:
Minority Health Awareness

National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

National Donate Life Month

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

STI Awareness Month

April 20 - 27 National Infant Immunization Week


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 24, 2013

Taking the nation's well-being pulse: How's your state or industry doing?

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is a daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. At least 500 U.S. adults are interviewed daily, offering a real-time measurement of the nation's well-being. The Gallup Well-Being Index is comprised of six sub-indexes that include 55 individual items that collectively measure Americans' physical, emotional, and fiscal wellbeing.

You can download in-depth 2012 state well-being reports, which include city and congressional district level findings for each state.

Here are two recent reports issued. The first compares serious health issues across states, and the second measures well-being factors against industry sectors.

Coloradans Least Obese, West Virginians Most for Third Year

State-level data are based on daily surveys conducted from January through December 2012, including interviews with more than 350,000 Americans nationwide and at least 1,000 residents in each state except Alaska and Hawaii. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index summarizes more than 50 different wellbeing items and is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents ideal wellbeing.

This report lists states with the highest and lowest rates for obesity, blood pressure and diabetes. In addition, some key findings include:

  • The national obesity rate remained steady at 26.2% in 2012, compared with 26.1% in 2011, but is still higher than the 2008 average of 25.5%
  • More than 2 in 10 adults are obese in all but one U.S. state (Colorado) and in five U.S. states -- West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alabama -- more than 3 in 10 adults are obese
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that obesity alone costs about $147 billion annually
  • An average of 29.3% of American adults said they had ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2012, compared with 30% in 2011, but exactly on par with the 2008 national average
  • An average of 11% of Americans reported ever being diagnosed with diabetes last year, unchanged from 2011

U.S. Doctors Lead in Wellbeing, Transportation Workers Lag

Report findings are based on more than 170,000 interviews conducted from January through December 2012 with employed Americans at least 18 years of age as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

In the United States, physicians lead all major occupational groups in overall wellbeing, followed by school teachers and business owners. Transportation workers have the lowest wellbeing scores, behind manufacturing and production workers.

Some of the factors that they used in the index were comparisons of occupations that were:

  • Most/least likely to say they use their strengths to do what they do best every day
  • Most/least likely to say their supervisor is more like a partner than a boss at their workplace, just ahead of managers or executives
  • Leading/lagging in weekly exercise
  • Highest/lowest healthy eating habits (fruits and vegetable consumption)
  • Highest/lowest risk combination of obesity, smoking

esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' health - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 8, 2013

What Will Your Last 10 Years Look Like? Make Health Last

Canada's Heart & Stroke Association has put together a series of powerful health messages in a campaign theme of "Make Health Last" - a series that might be good to share with employees in your wellness program. They pose the question: What will your last 10 years look like?

(This post contains YouTube videos. If your organization blocks access, you may not be able to see them in this post. Here is a direct link to the Make Health Last campaign: www.makehealthlast.ca)

March 2, 2013

Wellness Focus for March: Nutrition, Colorectal Cancer, Kidney Health & more

National Nutrition Month - sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The 2013 theme, "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day," encourages personalized healthy eating styles and recognizes that food preferences, lifestyle, cultural and ethnic traditions and health concerns all impact individual food choices. Registered dietitians play a critical role in helping people eat right, their way, every day.

Download nutrition tip sheets, recipes, and activity handouts to share with your employees. Another excellent resource is MyPlate.gov, which offers a free food tracker, tips for eating healthy on a budget, food plans, sample menus, and more.

Colorectal cancer prevention - Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It’s as common in women as it is in men. This year, over 142,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and an estimated 50,830 will die of the disease. With certain types of screening, this cancer can be prevented by removing polyps (grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine) before they become cancerous. Several screening tests detect colorectal cancer early, when it can be more easily and successfully treated.
According to the CDC, if everyone who is 50 years old or older were screened regularly, as many as 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.

Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include:

  • Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement)
  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away
  • Losing weight and you don't know why
For more resources see: Colorectal cancer prevention & education.

National Kidney Month and Thursday, March 14 is World KIdney Day. One in three Americans is at risk for kidney disease due to diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney disease. There are more than 26 million Americans who already have kidney disease, and most don’t know it because there are often no symptoms until the disease has progressed. Take the Are You at Risk Quiz

The National Kidney Foundation's Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP) offers free screening for those at risk - anyone 18 years and older with high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney disease. Find a KEEP Screening near you and call to see if you are eligible.

Other Health Observances in March
Save Your Vision Month and Workplace Eye Wellness Month - this year's focus is on eye safety at the computer, and preventing Computer Vision Syndrome.

March 3-10 - National Sleep Awareness Week, which celebrates the health benefits of sleep.

March 3-9, 2013 - National Problem Gambling Awareness Week - Research finds that 2%-3% of the US population will have a gambling problem in any given year. That’s 6 million to 9 million Americans.

March 11-17 - Brain Awareness Week

March 17 - 23 - National Poison Prevention Week

March 18 - 22 - National Youth Violence Prevention Week

March 26 - American Diabetes Association Alert Day - educational and promotional materials available in English and Spanish.


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 3, 2013

February Wellness Resources: Women's Heart Health, Teen Dating Violence & more

Here are some February health and wellness resources for you and your employees.

Go Red for Women / Heart Month
This is the 10th Year of the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women® movement — 10 years of fighting to save women's lives from heart disease. While the progress has been significant, there's a long way to go. Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year; Heart disease kills more women than men, at an average rate of one death per minute; Heart disease kills more women than all kinds of cancer combined.

Here are some helpful resources:
Warning Signs of Heart Attack, Stroke & Cardiac Arrest

Heart Attack Risk Assessment

Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T. iPhone app

Heart & Stroke Encyclopedia

Interactive cardiovascular library.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Any teen or young adult can experience violence, abuse or unhealthy behaviors in their dating relationships. A relationship may be serious or casual, monogamous or not, short-term or long-term. Dating abuse does not discriminate -- it does not see gender, sexual identity, economic status, ethnicity or religious preference. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year; One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence; One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Here are some helpful resources:
Break the Cycle

Love Is Not Abuse

National Donor Day
Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. However, an average of 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs. As of today, 116,998 people are waiting for an organ - that's enough to fill a large football stadium. By becoming a donor, you may save up to 8 lives. February 14 is National Donor Day

Here are some helpful resources:
Why become a Donor

Sign Up to Be a Donor

Workplace Partnership Materials

AMD / Low Vision Awareness Month
To make people aware of AMD, or age-related macular degeneration, the Foundation of the American Society of Retina Specialists is providing free posters to community centers nationwide. This 2-poster set demonstrates how age-related macular degeneration distorts vision and encourages people who experience this distortion to schedule an eye examination or, if they have already been diagnosed, to learn about treatment options.

Here are some helpful resources:
Download posters or request posters here


ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

January 27, 2013

Keep Those New Year's Resolutions: Fitness Apps

If your personal health & wellness goals for the New Year are already flagging, here are eight fitness apps that might help you get back on track. And if you're doing OK with your goals, good for you - why not share these with colleagues, friends and family? Most are free, have free versions, or are low cost.

Every Body Walk! App
Personalize your walking plan, connect with walking communities, learn about the latest fitness trends and tips, and more. This app allows you to: Track and save your own walking routes, build your walking history—then share your progress on Facebook; Discover walking groups and walking paths near you with an interactive map; Read the latest news about walking, health news, trends and more; and Watch videos that include walking tips, how communities are embracing walking, advice from experts and more.

The founders of this apps say that exercise doesn’t have to be boring and you don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to be healthy. This app tracks a variety of fitness activities - running, yoga, golf and more - and then rewards you with free and discounted merchandise - all to the goal of giving you an incentive to adopt long-term fitness and exercise habits.

Yog connects runners from around the world to run together in real-time. You can create a run of your own by selecting the date, time, distance, and soundtrack for your run and inviting your friends to join in. Alternatively, you can join one of the many runs scheduled by other runners from around the world.

RunKeeper bills itself as "the personal trainer for your pocket." It allows you to track your running, walking, biking and other activities with a mobile app or log in to the website to get further insight into how you're doing against yourself or your friends. Among other things, the app allows you to see detailed stats around your pace, distance, time, and calories burned; get coaching through your headphones; measure your heart rate with many available sensors; take pictures along the way to share and save; view a detailed history of your activities; and share your progress with friends - including live maps of your activities.

Whether you're a beginner or a fitness pro, young or old, tech-savvy or not, runtastic says it can help. They offer products and services that focus on gathering and managing sports data to motivate people to do sports and to connect with like-minded people. Whatever the sport, relevant sports data can be tracked via an app uploaded directly to the runtastic fitness site, a social fitness community for users. Shared activities, competitions and incentives within the community increase motivation and further assist the users in achieving goals. Related: Runtastic Fitness Collection

Endomondo is a sports community based on free real-time GPS tracking of running, cycling, walking, skiing, kayaking, roller skating - or other sports involving movement across a distance. Track all your sports data and monitor your performance over time. Meet like-minded friends, get inspired by them, challenge them and follow their activities... live.

Skimble offers Workout Trainer and GPS Sports Tracker apps that help motivate people to get and stay active. Hundreds of workouts are guided by a dynamic audio and visuals. Free versions of the apps are available or premium service with coaches and instructional videos for $25/year. Users can create their own workouts, get phone or email reminders, share progress on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and share progress with friends.

Pocket Yoga
For both fitness and stress reduction, this app offers voice instruction and visual guides, illustrated images of different poses and posture, as well as a dictionary of postures and positions that describes the benefit of each.

esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' health - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

January 11, 2013

Influenza - tips & tools for you & your employees

The Centers for Disease Control say that the flu vaccine is the best defense against seasonal flu. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu vaccine location near you.

Flu resources for your business

Flu resources for healthcare providers

Flu resources for schools & childcare Providers

Flu resources for the general public

October 19, 2012

The Pink Glove Dance

Here's a fun way to raise awareness for breast cancer and have fun doing it: The Pink Glove Dance Competition. Winners for 2012 haven't been selected yet, but you can review and cast your vote for favorites. You'll need to set aside some time - it looks like hundreds of healthcare organizations have submitted entries.

We've picked out three from past years that are energetic, fun, and contagious - and we love the way that the hospitals got so many employees from all parts of the organization involved. There's some real talent in evidence, but there's also a very endearing "real people" feel that makes them particularity fun and charming. We already loved healthcare workers and this just makes us love them more! Check out the rules - maybe your organization could do this next year!

Lexington Medical Center, West Columbia, South Carolina (This was last year's top prize winner)

Florida Hospital

Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon

esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' health - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

October 13, 2012

Why not use Pinterest to jazz up your Health & Wellness communications?

Looking to add a little excitement to your organization's wellness program and to engage your employees? Trying to find a new way to deliver the message and cut through the clutter? Consider using Pinterest as a communication tool. Pinterest is a "virtual pinboard" that lets you organize and share cool things you find on the web. Because it's a visual medium, it lends itself to quick web browsing. Think of a Pinterest page as a virtual collage. You find content that you like on the web and you "pin it" in a "board," which is a topical collection of pins. You could use it to offer nutrition and healthy eating tips, information on health observances such as breast cancer awareness month, and tips for exercise and fitness.

Take a look at a few good health & wellness resources on Pinterest to get a better idea:

TV Doc and health guru Dr. Oz shares recipes, fitness tips, and information on healthy foods.

A Knoxville, TN wellness clinic, Provision Health & Wellness, shares recipes, fitness tips, food facts, and more.

Preventionmag from the health magazine of the same name offers tips from experts on weight loss, fitness, health, nutrition, recipes, healthy aging, and diets.

fitsugar offers workout routines, and boards on running and cycling.

The Daily Meal offers a health and wellness board

Whole Living magazine has an emphasis on healthy foods and green living.

Of course, there are other themes that would lend themselves to Pinterest, such as work/life balance, productivity tips, leadership, and more. You can include content from other Pinterest users, from websites, and from free government sources like the CDC, OSHA and the Department of Labor. Another good source of content are even HR Infographics.

You can learn more about Pinterest in their getting started guide. Pinterest for Business offers a business library of tools, tutorials, and resources focused on business use of Pinterest.

September 28, 2012

October Wellness Resources: Breast Cancer, Mental Illness, Bullying, Stuttering & more

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) is a collaboration of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and provide greater access to services. At the NBCAM, you can find links to organizations participating in Breast Cancer Awareness activities and outreach. Find resources on breast cancer from the American Cancer Society. Find a local low-cost or free Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection screening services. An estimated 8 to 11 percent of women in the U.S. who are underinsured or uninsured may qualify for services.

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012: Oct. 7-13, 2012 - Since 1990, the first full week of October has been declared as Mental Illness Awareness Week in recognition of the National Alliance on Mental Illness's (NAMI) efforts to raise mental illness awareness. This year's theme is "Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives." NAMI's site offers great information and resources on specific types of mental illnesses.

National Bullying Prevention Month - access a variety of resources you can use during October — and throughout the year — to engage, educate, and inspire others to join the movement and prevent bullying where you live. Many states and local governments have taken action to prevent bullying and protect children. Through laws and policies, each state addresses bullying differently. Find out how your state refers to bullying in its laws and what they require on part of schools and districts. Use this clickable map to learn about your state's bullying laws and policies. Also, see warning signs a child is being bullied and signs a child is bullying others.

October 22 - Stuttering Awareness Day - The Stuttering Foundation offers a variety of resources, including facts and case histories of famous people who stutter. They offer a specific set of stuttering resources for employers, including 6 Tips For Speaking With Someone Who Stutters and a state-by-state list of speech pathologists. See also: Job Seekers Who Stutter Can Become Great Employees

Other Health Observances in October
Health Literacy Month
Eye Injury Prevention Month
Down Syndrome Awareness Month
Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week October 12-20

esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' health - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

September 23, 2012

Workplace stress - signs, causes, treatment

We thought this infographic on workplace stress was pretty handy - click here for a larger version

September 16, 2012

Poor Worker Health = $576 Billion

According to a recent report by the Integrated Benefits Institute, poor worker health and the related loss of productivity take an estimated $576 billion annual toll (PDF). This includes absences ranging from sick days to time lost to workers' compensation claims - see the accompanying chart. IBI researchers attribute 39 percent (or $227 billion) to lost productivity associated with poor health. They say, "Lost productivity results when employees are absent due to illness or when they are underperforming due to poor health (“presenteeism”—when employees are at work but not performing at their peak)."


IBI researchers hope that these numbers will influence political candidates to see the link between worker health and economic health, issues that are "tightly coupled" due to the impact of health on productivity. They also note that investments in worker health can pay off:

Sean Nicholson, Ph.D., a Cornell University economist and a leading researcher on the link between health and productivity, stated, “The literature shows that employers can save an average of $3 for every $1 they invest in improving their workers’ health, so there are opportunities for companies to increase profits and wages while they improve worker health."

Researchers at The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) agree that a strong American economy depends upon an able, productive workforce, but they note that the challenges have never been greater: The American workforce is rapidly aging and is increasingly burdened by epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Middle-aged and young workers are facing earlier onset of chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.

In response, they have introduced Total Worker Health, described as "a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being." As part of this initiative, they have compiled a comprehensive suite of Employer and Employee Wellness Resources. If you are looking to strengthen your workplace wellness program, that is a good place to start.

More resources
Building a Stronger Evidence Base for Employee Wellness (PDF)
New evidence that wellness programs yield high ROI
How healthy are your employees? Track via your state's Well-Being Index

esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' wellbeing issues - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

September 14, 2012

Normal aging or dementia - how can you distinguish?

Uh-oh. One of your senior relatives is starting to forget things: Where they put their car keys. The name of that restaurant at the beach house that they used to love. The actor in the movie they saw last month.

Or maybe it isn't a relative. Maybe it's you.

Are these "senior moments" normal manifestations of aging, or early signs of Alzheimer's?

In a survey last year, Alzheimer's disease was identified as the second most feared disease following cancer. In the fear factor department, it beat out ominous illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. As a society, it's something we think about and talk about and worry about a lot. But in reality, most people don't know the difference between Alzheimer's disease and normal aging - and according to a recent survey, even caregivers have confusion about dementia vs. normal aging (PDF).

"A new survey of relatives and friends caring for people now diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia found two-thirds mistook early symptoms for normal cognitive wear and tear. In doing so, they may have delayed proper diagnosis and early treatment for their loved ones."

Alzheimer's Association offers 10 Early Signs and Symptoms to watch for, and they compare these to normal signs of aging. It's worth reading the full discussion, but here's a summary:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are other causes, too. It's important to consult with a doctor because some dementia-like symptoms may be treatable - such as drug interactions, thyroid problems, depression, diet, or other causes.

What's "normal" aging?

AARP talks about 6 Types of Normal Memory Lapses - lapses that are not signs of dementia. The article also offers suggestions for how to minimize or counter those pesky so-called senior moments.

Experts say that even if you or a loved one have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's, you can lower your risk by exercising, losing weight, eating well, and managing any medical conditions like diabetes and stress. In the article Age-Proof Your Brain, they offer 10 ways to keep your mind fit. Among the suggestions are keeping active and fit, engaging in exercise, including weight-bearing exercises, keeping your mind active, seeking out new skills and challenges, setting goals, and keeping socially active. Diet is also very important - - think "Mediterranean diet." Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding fats can be very beneficial. See Foods that lower your risk of Dementia.

esi.JPG If you or one of your employees is grappling with issues related to an aging loved one, we can help. ESI Employee Assistance Program can help caregivers find support and resources. To learn more about how ESI EAP can help, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 26, 2012

The Changing Face of Eating Disorders

Asked to describe a person suffering from anorexia, most people would describe a teen girl, but the typical profile is changing. Health experts are trying to dispel the myth that eating disorders are confined to teens and young adults - or even to women. In fact, people suffering from an eating disorder may not even be particularly thin. Stereotypes stand in the way of identifying, intervening, and helping people who suffer from eating disorders.

Amednews.com - the public access to the American Medical Association's news - recently featured a focus on eating disorders, with the cornerstone article discussing new research showing that eating disorders are an increasing problem in older women. A study of 1,849 women 50 and older published online June 21 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 13.3% of women 50 and older exhibited eating disorder symptoms. In addition, the Renfrew Center, one of the leading treatment centers for eating disorders, reports that over the past decade, there has been a 42% increase in the number of women over the age of 35 who sought treatment.

Study author Cynthia M. Bulik says that the health effects of eating disorders in older women can be severe: "While eating disorders can negatively affect the health of people of all ages, the impact can be particularly severe in older adults, whose bones and immune systems are weakened by age, Bulik said. She often sees severe osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems and gastroesophageal reflux disease in older patients with eating disorders."

Health experts stress the need to look beyond stereotypes to spot patients with eating disorders. In 2009, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released data showing that:

"An estimated 23,807 people were hospitalized for eating disorders each year in 1999 and 2000. This amount jumped 18% to 28,155 both in 2005 and in 2006.
Women age 19 to 30 still make up the largest group hospitalized for eating disorders, but researchers found such statistics grew markedly among demographics not usually considered at high risk. Hospitalizations of boys and girls younger than 12 grew 119% from the 1999-2000 period to 2005-06, while admissions among men of any age jumped 37%. Hospitalizations of patients age 45 to 65 increased by 48%."

A related story, The changing face of anorexia, discusses demographic changes and sheds light on accompanying mental health issues.
Anorexia is often about control and emotion, and at its core are issues greater than food. "The general profile of the anorexic is a perfectionistic tendency," Dr. Woods says. "They are focused, organized and driven, and that goes into their attitudes about food. Anorexics are rigid, and they are preoccupied with weight, shape and size."
Some are dealing with old scars, fear of abandonment, distorted body image, feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in. For many, it is emotion management. "Their problems are often with living life, being in relationships," says Dr. Dennis of Timberline Knolls. Many anorexics also face comments from well-meaning friends, family and physicians -- "Why don't you just eat," or "Oh, it's not that bad, you look fine" -- that push them further into the disorder.
Anorexics come in many sizes. Some are able to not appear too thin. Others may be 5'4" and weigh 70 pounds. It is not only difficult to diagnose and treat, it has the highest suicide rate of mental disorders. About 5% of diagnosed patients fully recover, and 40% relapse in the first year. For 75%, it is a lifelong condition."

How employers can intervene
Employers can raise awareness about eating disorders as part of health and wellness programs. Human Resource staff and managers should be aware of the changing demographics of eating disorders, educated about symptoms and - as they would be with any issues - alert for employee changes in performance or behavior. In observing symptoms or behaviors that may point to eating disorders, managers should not try to be diagnosticians. Rather, in suspecting an issue or a problem that is interfering with work-life issues, managers should become comfortable in suggesting referrals to an Employee Assistance Program or other health or helping resources.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Academy for Eating Disorders
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Renfew Center
Something Fishy


ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resource for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

July 22, 2012

A tale of mental illness from the inside

Elyn Saks offers first-hand insight into schizophrenia from the vantage of the sufferer. Despite grappling with this through her lifetime, she is Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California School of Law. In 2007, she released her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold, in which she reveals the depth of her own schizophrenia, now controlled by drugs and therapy. As a mental health law scholar and writer, she speaks for the rights and dignity of mentally ill people.

We've included two items about this courageous woman. Below is a 15 minute video, in which she shares her experience, and tells how the intercession of family, friends and colleagues have helped her to lead a productive and happy life. She credits three reasons: excellent treatment, the help and support of many close family members and friends who help her navigate her life in the face of symptoms, and an enormously supportive workplace. We also encourage you to listen to A Scholar's Memoir of Schizophrenia, a 20 minute interview with NPR. Both are invaluable in breaking down myths, giving hope to those with mental illness, and standing as compelling testimony for intervention, underscoring how essential it is for those of us who live and work with the mentally ill learn compassionate ways to help.

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help and resources for depression and other serious mental health issues. If one of your employees is grappling with mental illness or a sudden alarming change in behavior, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

June 29, 2012

Affordable Care Act - Information Toolkit

Affordable Care Act - Information for Employers and Self-Employed - Small businesses - Learn about small employer tax credits, as well as small employers’ rights and responsibilities under the law. Small employers are usually defined at those having fewer than 50 employees. Large businesses - Information for businesses with 50 or more employees, including information about tax policy and employer responsibility parts of the law. Self-Employed - Self-employed people have some new options and protections, both now and beginning in 2014. In some states, self-employed people can apply for small business policies.

Resources for Consumers and Employers - from Kaiser Family Foundation

After the Ruling: A Consumer Guide - an FAQ from Kaiser Health News about some of the law's provisions that are already up and running as well as major features of what's to come.

What’s Changing and When - an interactive timeline, or see all timeline items on one page in printable format.

Health Reform Implementation Timeline - provisions by year.

The Affordable Care Act by State - See what implementation means for your state. From grants to new services and programs, find out how the Affordable Care Act is helping you where you live.

Prevention and Wellness - insurers are required to cover certain preventive services at no cost to the insured. Beginning as early as August 2012, this list will expand to include additional services for women.

Health Reform Glossary

Full text of the Affordable Care Act - Read the Affordable Care Act in full or browse it section by section.

June 16, 2012

Grace under pressure: Robin Roberts shares her MDS diagnosis

Earlier this week, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts announced that she is facing a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), believed to be the result of the radiation therapy she received to treat her breast cancer five years ago. She'll be undergoing stem cell treatment and a bone marrow transplant from her sister, who is a match.

Her courage is once again inspirational. During her battle with cancer, she worked throughout and shared her breast cancer treatment and recovery with the public in intimate detail, keeping a public video journal that offered awareness, education and inspiration to millions. Her decision to publicly share her new challenge has already made a difference, motivating many to take action. We'll all be learning more about MDS, a relatively rare blood disorder, through her story and we'll be learning more about bone marrow transplants. Roberts was fortunate to have a marrow match in her sister. Every year, 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant, but only half receive one. African Americans have more of a challenge with a donor match - a 66% chance, versus 92% for Caucasians. Since her announcement, donor registrations have skyrocketed. You can register to donate bone marrow at the National Marrow Donor Registry at Be the Match. Learn more: What’s It Like: To donate bone marrow or blood stem cells.

Cancer in the workplace: supporting colleagues

One of the other striking things about Roberts' announcement is how she was surrounded and embraced by her colleagues. Their concern and support is readily evident, as it was throughout her breast cancer treatment and recovery.

Below, we are reprinting a post on Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues.

If you've ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We've compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.

Managing Through Cancer Principles - offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness. (This resource is part of a site called Cancer and Careers, which has many resources, tools, and a support network for empowering and educating people with cancer to thrive in their workplace - see the video clip at the end of this post).

Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don't know what to say or how to deal with the person - so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.

Top 10 Dos and Don'ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.

Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don'ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.

Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.

How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts - people who are living/have lived through real life situations.

Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources - be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers a wide variety of support resource for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

May 1, 2012

Workplace Wellness Focus for May: Mental Health, Women's Health, and more

May is Mental Health Month, a commemoration that started in 1949, with a purpose of raising awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all. This year's theme is Do More for 1in4. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. That is nearly 60 million people. Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. The message of the month is that mental health disorders are real, common and treatable, and together we can do more to help the 1 in 4 Americans who live with these disorders.

A special focus of the month is also on raising the awareness of trauma and how, left untreated, it can have a devastating impact on physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Trauma can be defined as having lived through threatening events or Witnessing terrible things happening to others. It might include any of the following:

  • Interpersonal violence – such as abuse, rape, domestic violence, and bullying
  • Social violence — such as war, terrorism, and living under oppressive political regimes
  • Natural disasters and accidents — such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and auto crashes
  • Serving in combat
  • Chronic social stressors – such as racism, sexism, poverty, humiliation and cultural dislocation
  • Childhood trauma - including physical, emotional and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; a parent who’s an alcoholic or addicted to other drugs; a mother who’s been battered; a family member in prison or diagnosed with mental illness; and a loss of a parent through divorce or abandonment

Download tool kits for Do More for 1in4 or Healing Trauma's Invisible Wounds.

Women's Health Week
May 13-19 marks Women's Health Week, when women are urged to take care of themselves. So often, women are the caretakers and may put their own well being on the back burner. During this week, women are urged to:

  • Visit a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings
  • Get active and eat healthy
  • Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress
  • Avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and not wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet

May 14th is designated as National Women's Checkup Day for early detection of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health illnesses, sexually transmitted infections, and other conditions.

Other May health observances
Some of the other areas of health and wellness that are observed in the month of May below. There are many more health observances in May, but we focused on ones that have tools or information that could be used in your wellness programs.

All month:

Specific days or weeks:
May 18: HIV Vaccine Awareness Day
May 19: Hepatitis Testing Day
may 21-27: Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week
May 27 to June 2: National Hurricane Preparedness Week
May 30: National Senior Fitness Day
May 31: World No Tobacco Day


ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers a variety of wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 27, 2012

Wellness focus for March: National Workplace Blindness Prevention

Did you know that March 2012 is National Prevent Blindness in the Workplace Month as well as Save Your Vision month? Since vision disorders account for $8.03 billion in lost productivity each year, screening and prevention are very important concerns for the workplace. Prevent Blindness America, a national nonprofit founded in 1908, is the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight through screenings, advocacy and training. Along with the American Optometric Association, they’re sponsoring National Prevent Blindness in the Workplace month and offering any company a free packet of blindness prevention information, as well as information on vision benefits. You can get HR tools and materials or email to get your packet.

The most common causes of blindness in America today, according to the NIH, are cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and, most common, diabetes, through diabetic retinopathy. Eye professionals recommend that all adults should see an eye doctor at least every three years, but people with diabetes should have a full eye exam, including pupil dilation, every year.

Working at a computer all day is a fast growing source of vision problems. The American Optometric Association has a helpful fact and tip sheet for computer workers, including suggestions to take periodic eye rest breaks and keep your chair and monitor correctly aligned. Wherever you work, though, the likelihood of vision problems, like that of so many health issues, increases with age. Experts recommend that everyone should have a full vision screening at age 40, which will not just make sure that your eyes are healthy now but establish a useful baseline for future reference. Preventing vision problems in later life is not just good economic sense, it’s one of the most important things you can do to ensure quality of life into old age and beyond.

ESI-Logo.jpg A healthy workplace is a productive workplace. Need help with your wellness program? ESI EAP can help - give us a call: 800-535-4841.

February 5, 2012

How healthy are your employees? Track via your state's Well-Being Index

For more than four years now, Gallup and Healthways have been indexing the nation's well-being by state via daily polls that measure six key aspects of well-being: life evaluation, emotional health, work environments, physical health, healthy behaviors and basic access. In 2010, they conducted more than 352,840 surveys between January and December 2010.

View month-by-month Gallup-Healthways Well-Being rankings, including an interactive map of the 2010 rankings. You can also download the 2010 Composite City, State and Congressional District Ranking Report (PDF) or City, State & Congressional District Well-Being Reports


The New York Times offers another interactive view of the 2010 Well Being Index via an interactive Congressional district map that drills down to 20 key wellness indicators ranging from stress and depression to job satisfaction and food adequacy.



esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' wellbeing issues - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

January 22, 2012

The supersizing of America: retooling for the obesity crisis

Early last year, we learned that the U.S. obesity problem was deemed large enough (ahem) to actually threaten passenger safety on city buses. To better balance capacity and weight loads, the Federal Transit Administration is evaluating the possibility of raising the current standard of 150 pound passenger and 1.5 square feet to 175 pounds and 1.75 square feet. The matter is under consideration and a new rule is expected by the spring. It's not just a matter for the feds - New York city has been factoring in the "tush tally" as it plans for the purchase of metro cars.

As the average American weight continues rising -- almost a third of the population now qualifies as obese -- manufacturers of all varieties are up-sizing products to accommodate the our new girth. See 6 everyday objects that are getting bigger and bigger for a few examples - our bigger butts are requiring many unusual products to be retooled.

Last year, the state of Texas issued a 50-page obesity report Gaining Costs, Losing Time (PDF) that documented obesity's costs to employers and businesses. The Comptroller's report estimated "obesity-attributable insurance costs at $1.4 billion in 2005 and projected costs of $2.1 billion in 2009. New Comptroller estimates show direct insurance costs to be $4.0 billion in 2009."

  • Snacking - more junk food and food between meals
  • Energy-dense foods - read "more calories" - fewer fruits and vegetables
  • Portion control - a huge increase in average portions consumed
  • Eating out more - plus, we eat larger portions when away from home
  • Physical inactivity - we aren't expending the calories we eat Increased portions

In addition to the obvious costs to businesses - healthcare costs and insurance and absenteeism - there are many hidden costs. For example, the study notes that the U.S. airline industry consumes 350 million more gallons of fuel at an extra cost of $275 million annually due to an increase in the average weight of passengers, and that passenger weight gain accounted for as much as one billion gallons of fuel consumed per year between 1960 and 2002.

To gauge the costs to your organization, the CDC has an Obesity Cost Calculator, which will estimate your organizations costs of obesity based on characteristics of your company.

The Texas report issues a variety of public policy recommendations for initiatives to fight obesity - everything from programs in the schools and public health arenas to the military and police settings. It includes an extensive section on worksite wellness programs (see page 23), which includes a variety of profiles of successful corporate wellness initiatives... a great place to get ideas for your program.

If you don't have a wellness program, check with your EAP. At EAP Employee Assistance, we believe in the importance of wellness strongly enough that we offer our employee members health risk assessments, discounted weight loss programs, nutrition counseling, gym memberships, and more. Does your EAP have any wellness tools that you can tap into? If not, you may consider switching to one that does.

Meanwhile, we'll try to help by offering wellness tools that you can share with your employees> Here are a few visual aids related to portion control.

WebMD offers a variety of handy tools, such as a wallet size portion control guide and the portion size plate, which offers visual guidelines comparing portions to every day objects.

For another visual tool, see what does 200 calories look like.

The Mayo Clinic offers a slide show Guide to portion control for weight loss

There are a variety of serving tools and gizmos that can help, such as scales and portion-control products like Meal Measure, EZ Weight Plate and other portion control serving ware.

December 11, 2011

What is the single best thing we can do for our health?

Doctor-Professor Mike Evans answers the old question "What is the single best thing we can do for our health" in a completely new way. He presents some compelling data about risk factors and what people can do to make a dramatic difference in health and longevity. Good fodder for your wellness program in a season with party tables overflowing and New Year's resolutions looming.

Dr. Evans is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital.

November 27, 2011

Employer Resources for World HIV-AIDS Day: December 1

December 1 is World AIDS Day. According to the November 2011 HIV-AIDS Fact Sheet (PDF), there are 34 million people in the world living with HIV. New HIV infections have declined by more than 20% since their peak in 1997, and declined by 15% between 2001 and 2010. Still, there were about 2.7 million new infections in 2010 or more than 7,000 new HIV infections per day. In North America, there are 1.3 million people with HIV/AIDS, and 58,000 people were newly infected in 2010.

The Kaiser Family Foundation marked the 30th year of the AIDS epidemic with a large-scale national survey of Americans: HIV/AIDS At 30. The survey revealed that there is a declining sense of national urgency and visibility of HIV/AIDS and reported HIV testing rates are flat since 1997, including among some key groups at higher risk.

One of the key initiatives on the AIDS front is the GYT campaign, or "Get Yourself Tested. One in two sexually active young people will get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) by age 25. And of the approximately 19 million new cases of STDs that occur every year in the United States, most will go undiagnosed. The GYT campaign offers many materials that could be incorporated in a wellness campaign, including prevention information, promotions via celebrity videos and a find a local STD testing site search tool.

The CDC also has a comprehensive workplace resource: Business and Labor Responds to AIDS. It includes 5 components:

  • HIV/AIDS Policy Development
  • Training for managers, supervisors and labor leaders
  • HIV/AIDS education for employees/workers
  • HIV/AIDS education for employees'/workers' families
  • HIV-related community service, volunteerism, and philanthropy

April 9, 2011

Three cool tools for your wellness program

Health Widgets and Gadgets for your website
CDC's Widgets and Gadgets - Here's a great body of free wellness tools for your company intranet. A widget is a CDC.gov application that displays the featured content directly on your web page. You can embed content on any site, and once you've added the widget, there's no technical maintenance. CDC.gov will update the content automatically. Adding a CDC.gov widget to your page means that you will have up-to-date, credible health and safety content. A few tools are also in Spanish.
There's quite an array of choices - here are a few:

Find more tools from USA.gov in the Health Gadget Gallery.

Heart health assessments and tools
My Life Check is a site designed by the American Heart Association with the goal of improved health by educating the public on how best to live. These measures have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements will make a big difference. This simple, seven step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have--to live a long, productive healthy life.

Free Life Check Assessment - get a confidential assessment about your health.

The Warning Signs - learn the danger signs for heart attacks, cardiac arrest and strokes. Heart attack and stroke are life-and-death emergencies — every second counts. The sooner you call for help, the greater your chances to survive and limit damage.

Cancer prevention and control resources
Cancer Control P.L.A.N.E.T. - P.L.A.N.E.T. stands for Plan, Link, Act, Network with Evidence-based Tools. This portal is a collaborative effort aimed at providing access to data and resources that can help cancer control planners, health educators, program staff, and researchers design, implement, and evaluate evidence-based cancer control programs. The Cancer Control P.L.A.N.E.T. is intended to help its audience achieve its shared goals of reducing cancer incidence, reducing the number of deaths from cancer, and enhancing quality of life for cancer survivors. Sponsors include The national Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Cancer Society, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Commission on Cancer.

Some of the many tools and topics include:

April 1, 2011

Health Risk Appraisals: Are you maximizing their potential?

The National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH) says that 60% of large employers are offering Health Risk Appraisals to their employees - that's good news. But offering an HRA is only one step in a broader program of engaging employees in their own health and wellness choices. Employers that simply offer HRAs without taking additional steps to ensure that employees fill them out and then follow up are not maximizing the potential benefits - either in terms of dollar savings or potential positive health outcomes. According to an NBCH survey, only about 4% of health plan members fill out an HRA annually, and biometric screening (for blood pressure, body mass, cholesterol level, blood sugar, bone density, cardiovascular health) is even less common.

This lack of follow-through is unfortunate because early detection can have the dual benefits of improving outcomes and being less costly. Consider these statistics that demonstrate opportunities for improvement:

  • 33% of breast cancer is not detected until it is late-stage cancer
  • 50% of cervical cancer is detected at a late stage
  • 33% of diabetics do not know they have the disease
  • 70% increase in the prevalence of diabetes since 1990
  • 34% increase in the likelihood that an employee of a small firm will quit smoking if a coworker also quits smoking.

In a recent newsletter article, Purchasing High Performance Health Risk Assessments: What You Don't Know Can Cost You, Brian Schilling presents various examples of employers that are successfully using HRAs to reduce costs, along with a case history of a municipality that is offering employees cash incentives and an insurer that is using a financial guarantee to try to maximize program participation. Schilling also offers a brief overview of the components of an effective HRA program.

For more in depth information, NBCH and the CDC offer a 22-page buyer "how-to" guide, designed to help users make informed decisions about if, why, when and how to use Heath Risk Appraisals with their work force: Health Risk Appraisals at the Worksite: Basics for HRA Decision Making (PDF).

The Guide includes three main areas of information:

  • Overview – the evolution of HRA, the evidence base for HRA use, common components of an HRA tool, limitations to HRA use, ten basic steps for planning an HRA program, and potential HRA sponsors.
  • HRA Features Prioritization Checklist designed to identify reasons for conducting an HRA at your worksite and what features an HRA tool must include to meet those objectives.
  • HRA Comparison Checklist – help to identify the HRA tool among those you are considering that best meets your workplace objectives.

March 20, 2011

The link between childhood trauma and adult health

There's an excellent article in this week's New Yorker about Nadine Burke and her work at the Bayview Child Health Center. The article focuses on the connection between childhood trauma and adult health problems and cites the ACE Study. (See the article abstract here, full access requires a subscription.)

The ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experience) describes itself as "Bridging the gap between childhood trauma and negative consequences later in life" and is the "... largest scientific research study of its kind, analyzing the relationship between multiple categories of childhood trauma (ACEs), and health and behavioral outcomes later in life." It is an ongoing collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente.

The study encompassed more than 17,000 adults and assessed multiple categories of stressful or traumatic childhood experiences:

  • Recurrent physical abuse
  • Recurrent emotional abuse
  • Contact sexual abuse
  • An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household
  • An incarcerated household member
  • Someone who is chronically depressed,mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal
  • Mother is treated violently
  • One or no parents
  • Emotional or physical neglect

More than half of the participants reported at least one type of adverse experience, about 25% reported two, and more than 10% reported 5 or more. ACEs tend to occur in clusters, rather than single experiences.

Researches developed a simple questionnaire that captured an "ACE Score," which demonstrated a
strong, graded relationship to health, social, and behavioral problems over the course of the person's life. Among other things, ACEs show a strong influence on mental health, the risk of re-victimization, the stability of relationships, and performance in the workforce. ACES also often indicate an increased rate serious adult health issues: heart disease, chronic lung disease, liver disease, suicide, HIV and STDs, and other risks. In a 5-minute CDC podcast entitled Bad Memories, Dr. Valerie Edwards discusses the lingering effects of adverse childhood experiences.

According to researchers, this demands an "...integrated approach to intervene early on children growing up being abused, neglected, witnessing domestic violence, or with substance abusing, mentally ill, or criminal household members. All of these childhood stressors are interrelated and usually co-occur in these homes. Prevention and treatment of one ACE frequently can mean that similar efforts are needed to treat multiple persons in affected families."

The integrated approach is one that employers should heed with their employees, as well. It underscores the imperative that any serious wellness program must include a strong behavioral and mental health component since many serious health conditions may be rooted in or exacerbated by ACEs.

The Centers for Disease Control offers much more information about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, including a list of related publications.

December 19, 2010

New evidence that wellness programs yield high ROI

As you establish your priorities for the coming year, make sure that employee wellness figures high on the list. In this month's Harvard Business Review, co-authors Leonard Berry, Ann Mirabito, and William Baun make the case that wellness programs are a strategic imperative, offering concrete evidence that investments in wellness yield tangible results.

The authors examine a few long-term programs and the impact on the bottom line and beyond:

  • Johnson & Johnson's comprehensive and strategic investment in their employees’ social, mental, and physical health has cumulatively saved the company $250 million in health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.
  • In a study of 185 workers and their spouses who participated in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training, 57% of those classified as high risk were converted to low-risk in the six-month program. Medical claim costs declined by $1,421 per participant, and every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings.
  • Six years after pulling its workers comp & injury care unit into its wellness program, MD Anderson Cancer Center saw lost work days decline by 80% and modified-duty days by 64%; workers comp premium dropped by 50%.
  • A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary attrition than do those whose programs have low effectiveness (9% vs. 15%).

In light of these results and the availability of tax incentives and grants stemming from healthcare reform legislation, the authors make the case that it's a good time for employers to take a serious look at their in-house programs. But successful programs demand a corporate cultural shift, requiring more than token and superficial nods to wellness.

6 critical success factors
The authors studied ten employers with successful programs and identified 6 pillars for success, each of which they discuss in detail, offering concrete actions taken by various employers. Here's the summary, but the discussions of each are well worth a read:

  • Pillar 1: Multileval leadership - top-tier commitment
  • Pillar 2: Alignment - cultural integration
  • Pillar 3: Scope, relevance, and quality - addressing the whole person
  • Pillar 4: Accessibility - convenience matters
  • Pillar 5: Partnerships - leveraging available resources
  • Pillar 6: Communications - overcoming apathy and demographic challenges

We're happy to see further evidence of things that we've observed across hundreds of employers: investment in the health and well-being of your employees pays off. And we would particularly echo the observations in Pillar 3 that, "Wellness isn’t just about physical fitness. Depression and stress, in particular, have proved to be major sources of lost productivity." The psychological and emotional health of an employee is inextricably linked to physical wellness.

October 30, 2010

November health observances: diabetes, lung health, caregivers & more

American Diabetes Month - Available resources include fact sheets, newsletter inserts, bilingual posters and a Diabetes Stops Here Blog. Nearly 24 million US children and adults live with diabetes, and an additional 57 million Americans at risk, there is no time to waste. One out of every three children born today will face a future with diabetes if current trends continue. A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that on the current path, the diabetes population may triple by 2050.

In line with the month's focus on increasing awareness and prevention for diabetes, other medical association are conducting coordinated campaigns:

American Podiatric Medical Association is raising awareness about diabetes related foot care and the the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society has issued a Guide to Diabetic Foot Care. In their accompanying press release, they note: "The statistics surrounding diabetes and diabetic related health issues are staggering. Diabetes is the cause of approximately 60,000 lower extremity amputations performed annually in the US."

November is also Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age, but the National Institutes of Health recently issued a diabetic retinopathy. For more resources from NIH on this topic, see Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your eyes healthy and Facts about diabetic retinopathy.

Lung and Pulmonary Health
Lung Cancer Awareness Month. One of the focal points of the month will be the 35th annual Great American Smokeout on November 18, which offers numerous resources and tools aimed at helping smokers to quit. There are several other areas of pulmonary health that will be observed this November. It is also and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Month, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month.

Caregivers Month
November is National Family Caregivers Month. It is estimated that 65 million Americans provide vital care to a family member, partner, friend or neighbor. The national Family Caregivers Association offers an array of caregiver tips, tools, resources, and links. It is also National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, raising awareness about end-of-life care options.

Other November events and observances

October 4, 2010

October wellness resources

October is a busy month for health awareness observances. We're highlighting two in particular.

First, we are right in the middle of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs from October 3-9m. It's sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which offers a vast library of resources on the various illnesses and support programs, along with many other tools and resources. In line with this, October 7 is National Depression Sreening Day.

Next, we call your attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). The NBCAM site is a partnership of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and provide greater access to screening services. While the site documents activities around Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is also a year-round resource for breast cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and the general public.

This is an opportune time to present one of our favorite video clips, which was performed by staff at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Other health and wellness observances for the month include:
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
National Physical Therapy Month
Dental Hygiene Month
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
October 18-24 - National Drug-Free Work Week

September 28, 2010

Health care reform explained, animation style

As a follow-up to our last post, we found this great 9 minute animated video - Health Reform Hits Main Street - which was written and produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation to help explain the basics of healthcare reform. (Video transcript)

September 25, 2010

Healthcare reform provisions kick in

While many of the major changes to healthcare insurance coverage won't begin until 2014, there are several provisions that will kick in on September 23. Changes apply to both employer-sponsored plans as well as individual health plans. We are offering several summary resources to help you and your employees understand the changes and the new benefits that are available.

Healthcare.gov offers a summary of the health care changes for most policies issued after March 23, 2010:

  • Coverage for children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied
  • Lifetime limits or caps on health coverage can no longer be imposed
  • Policies cannot be canceled over mistakes on the application unless fraud can be proven
  • Decisions about denial of coverage can be appealed to an independent reviewer
  • Preventative services for certain services like screenings, vaccinations and checkups will be provided at no charge
  • Children can remain on a parent's health plan until age 26
  • Ability to choose a primary care doctor and pediatrician from your provider's network
  • Use of an emergency room outside your plan's network will not require additional payments

Additional resources
Los Angeles Times: Several health care reform provisions begin Thursday
USNews & World Report: 8 immediate cost benefits of healthcare reform
Palm Beach Post: Health Reform is here: More coverage for kids, free physicals among changes that take effect this week
Kaiser Health News: A Consumer's Guide To The Health Law, Six Months In
Houston Chronicle: Health care reform's first wave approaching
Kaiser Health News: New Law Brings Changes To Health Insurance Rules This Week

August 29, 2010

Health & Wellness resources for September

It's back to school month, which means back to the basics. As schedules change, it's a perfect time to re-establish and re-commit to healthy routines. Here are some seasonal health & wellness resources for you and your employees.

National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month - Recovery Month highlights the societal benefits of substance abuse treatment and promotes the message that recovery from substance abuse in all its forms is possible. It's a month to celebrate people in recovery and those who serve them. It's also a great reminder that addiction is a treatable disease. Treatment benefits not just the affected individual, but also their family, friends, workplace, and society as a whole. Educating the public reduces the stigma associated with addiction and treatment.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Awareness Month - Blood cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes are cancers that originate in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues. They are considered to be related cancers because they involve the uncontrolled growth of cells with similar functions and origins. The diseases result from an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell, which becomes abnormal (malignant) and multiplies continuously. The accumulation of malignant cells interferes with the body's production of healthy blood cells.Every 4 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer. An estimated 137,260 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2010. New cases of leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma will account for 9.0 percent of the more than 1.5 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States this year.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month - More than 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and approximately 15,000 women die annually from the disease. Unfortunately, most cases are diagnosed in their later stages when the prognosis is poor, but if diagnosed and treated early, when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. That is why it is imperative that the early signs and symptoms of the disease are recognized, not only by women, but also by their families and the medical community. Why not educate your employees about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month - Prostate cancer is a disease of the prostate gland, part of the male reproductive system. It is a common, but typically slow growing cancer when compared to other types of cancer, and curable if caught in early stages. ZERO — The Project to End Prostate Cancer works to create public awareness to fight and end prostate cancer. Here's some information for employees about prostate cancer risk factors.

National Cholesterol Education Month - High blood cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans. It is a serious condition that increases the risk for heart disease. The higher the cholesterol level, the greater the risk. A person can have high cholesterol and not know it. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease. September is a good month to encourage your employees to have their blood cholesterol levels checked and to focus on food and lifestyle choices that minimize cholesterol. Here are more resources on cholesterol from Federal Occupational Health.

National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month - Atrial fibrillation (AF or afib) is the most common irregular heartbeat and is characterized by heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath. This progressive and debilitating disease can lead to stroke, heart failure, and Alzheimer's disease, and can double your risk of death. Afib takes a physical toll, an emotional toll, and a financial toll on those who are living with it—not just the patient, but the family, too. Here's a good Atrial Fibrillation Guide to learn more.

National Preparedness Month - It's fitting that a month in which two national disasters unfolded - The World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina - should be dedicated as month to encourage individuals and employers to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Whether natural or man-made, unexpected emergencies occur, and being prepared can help to mitigate problems.

September 5-11 - Suicided Prevention Month and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day - In one of the most recent studies, suicide was the eleventh ranking cause of death in the US, and the third cause of death in the young. About every 15 minutes, someone commits suicide in the U.S., leaving survivors with a heavy burden of grief, guilt and unanswered questions. It's estimated that for every successful suicide, there are 25 nonfatal attempts. Some populations are at greater risk than others. Here's a list of links to professional organizations that offer more resources.

September 26 World Heart Day - This year's theme is "Workplace Wellness," offering an employer's resource guide, which includes ideas that can be implemented in the workplace (PDF), as well as case histories of wellness campaigns in some large corporations.

June 28, 2010

From the experts: Eat less, move more

By congressional fiat, every five years a panel of experts issue nutritional guidance to the citizens of the US. Last week, the preliminary 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report was issued - preliminary in that it is still subject to a 30-day comment period prior to a final release.

This year's report calls the American public "overweight and undernourished" and points to the alarming increase in obesity, calling it "the greatest threat to public health in this century." But the prescription to remedy the rise in obesity holds few surprises and remains remarkably consistent with prior reports: cut calories and exercise more.

The report notes that as a nation, we don't eat enough vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and our diets rely too heavily on what the report calls SoFAS - food with added sugars and solid fats - as well as refined grains and sugar. They encourage adopting patterns of eating that have been shown to be healthful, such as Mediterranean-style dietary patterns and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating patterns.

The report acknowledges that there are many barriers that make it difficult for Americans to adopt more healthful patterns and that it will take a "multi-sectoral strategy" to foster change. Here are key public policy recommendations from the report, some of which can be incorporated in company wellness programs:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
  • Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
  • For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
  • Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Ensure household food security through measures that provide access to adequate amounts of foods that are nutritious and safe to eat.
  • Develop safe, effective, and sustainable practices to expand aquaculture and increase the availability of seafood to all segments of the population. Enhance access to publicly available, user-friendly benefit/risk information that helps consumers make informed seafood choices.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.
  • Implement the US National Physical Activity Plan, a private-public sector collaborative promoting local, state, and national programs and policies to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary activity.

The full report can be found here in a series of PDF files, or
Cornell student Daniel Green created a single web-based document.

Wellness resources: more on DASH and Mediterranean style diets

June 1, 2010

June Wellness Resources: Spotlight on Summer Safety

As we gear up to the summer season and kids let loose for summer vacations, it's a good time for your wellness program to focus on seasonal safety related issues: water and pool safety, sun and extreme heat, lightning and storm related-safety, biking safety, and fireworks safety. We've compiled a variety of resources that you can use in your summer wellness communication programs.

Water safety - Health Swimming and Recreational Water from the Centers for Disease Control offers extensive resources on everything water-related, from swimming, boating and pool safety to water-related illnesses and skin cancer prevention. Swimming Safety from Kids Health also has good information. For additional resources, see the Pool Safety Council, which is dedicated to the prevention of child drowning, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, and the Boating Safety Resource Center from the U.S. Coast Guard. This includes boating safety information as well as links to federal and state laws about boating.

Fireworks Safety - as we gear up to July 4, fireworks are a safety issue for kids - and some grownups too. That's why Prevent Blindness designates June and July as Fireworks Prevention Months. See U.S. CSPC Fireworks Information Center and the National Council on Fireworks safety.

Biking Safety - Bike Safety for Kids from Kids Health is a good overall resource, as are Kids and Bicycle Safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety and Bicycle Safety: How to Not Get Hit by Cars. Helmets are an important way to prevent injuries. There are no federal laws mandating bicycle helmets, but many states and localities have laws, particularly for kids under age 18. See helmet laws for bicycle riders from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Lightning Safety - The National Weather Service reminds us that June 20-26, 2010 is Lightning Safety Week and provides a variety of resources on lightning and storm safety. An average of 58 people are killed by lightning each year, and hundreds more sustain non-fatal injuries from lightning strikes. In addition to safety tips, the site includes some fascinating survivor stories. Also see NASA's report on Human Voltage: When people and lightning converge. Another good resource is the National Lightning Safety Institute's personal lightning safety resources and fact sheet on lightning safety for outdoor workers.

Heat and sun safety - According to the National Weather Service, heat-related deaths are one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths across the country each year, and thousands of people from kids to the elderly are made ill through heat stress. Excessive exposure to the sun can also cause skin cancer. Sun Safety and heat illness prevention sheet from from Kids Health offer good guidance for parents. The Sunwise Program from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sun Safety from the American Cancer Society both offer good information on skin protection. The CDC Guide to Extreme Heat offers information for all ages, and for outdoor workers, OSHA offers a tip sheet on heat stress prevention.

May 11, 2010

Bike to Work Week May 17-21: Tools to make your workplace bike friendly

Next week is Bike to Work Week, and there are so many good reasons to support and encourage your employees to bike to work - really, not just for this one week, but on an ongoing basis. It's a safe, low impact aerobic activity that can bolster your wellness program and yield health benefits for your work force. In a difficult economic time, it can help your employees to save money and possibly earn tax credits. And switching from fuel-powered commuting to human-powered commuting is good for the environment. Oh, and did we mention that it's fun? There are many more reasons for your employees to start biking now.

To help support Bike Month 2010 and Bike to Work Week, we've compiled some employer-focused resources:

The League of American Bicyclists has some excellent resources to get you started. They offer a 16-page step-by-step guide for creating a Bike Month event, including ideas specifically around biking to work. Some of these plans call for starting in February, so you may want to file this publication away for next year, but there are some creative suggestions that can be used now. As part of their "Bicycle Friendly Businesses" program, the League also provides technical assistance for employers. Also see their list of ways that employers can encourage bike-commuting employees.

The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety has a page of terrific practical suggestions and resources for creating a bicycle-friendly workplace. And at GreenBiz.com, Caitlin Dorsey offers Ten Ways to Make Your Business Bike-Friendly. It's worth reading her full suggestions, but we've summarized her pointers here:

1. Install bicycle racks in front of your business.
2. Participate in Bike-to-Work Week.
3. Offer cyclist discounts.
4. Keep a "loaner" lock on hand.
5. Use bicycle couriers.
6. Offer safe cycling training for employees.
7. Guarantee emergency rides home.
8. Make space available inside your workplace for bicycle parking.
9. Shower facilities.
10. Cash or in-kind incentives for bicyclists.

Learn about the The Bicycle Commuter Act and ways that your employees can potentially get tax credits through the Bicycle Commuter Tax Provision

Check out this map of bicycle friendly communities to see if your community is on the list.

Biker education and safety resources you can share with your employees:
How you can ride better
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
NHTSA Bicycle Safety Tips for Adults (video)

April 30, 2010

May Wellness Resources: Mental Health, Occupational Safety, and more

May is Mental Health Month, with a theme of "Live Your Life Well" - a national public education campaign dedicated to helping people better cope with stress and enhancing their well-being. Part of this campaign is the Live Your Life Well website that offers 10 research-based tools and ways to apply them in everyday life. From relaxation techniques to journaling exercises to simple ways to get better sleep and improve eating habits, the materials offer a wide range of resources to build resiliency and well-being - some good resources for your wellness programs. These resources are all made available by Mental Health America, formerly known as the National Mental Health Association.

May 2-8 is North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week 2010, sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers. Mission 2010 is safe workplaces, the importance of which has been tragically highlighted this year with the loss of 29 workers in the West Virginia Massey mine disaster, 7 workers Tesoro refinery explosion in Washington, 6 workers killed at the Kleen Energy Plant in Connecticut, and 11 workers missing and presumed dead from Transocean's oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana. Learn more about NAOSH Week and activities to support safety in the workplace, in schools, and in the community.

Other Health & Wellness observances in May

April 16, 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act & the workplace

Now that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is law, how are employers reacting? When it comes to offering workers healthcare benefits, will droves of employers be running for the exits? The answer is no, according to a recent health care benefits survey of about 3,700 employers by Crain Communications, publisher of both Workforce Management and Business Insurance. The survey found that 52.5% strongly disagreed with the statement that it would be better for their organizations to stop offering health care benefits and pay a fine under the new law, and another 15.3% somewhat disagreed. Only 14.1% felt strongly that it would be better for their organizations to drop benefits. The larger the employer, the greater the percentage that disagreed with the idea that it would be better to drop benefits. Many of those surveyed said that health care benefits are critical to employee recruiting and retention (65.7% strongly agreed; 25.6% somewhat agreed).

However, when asked whether they understand the impact of the law on benefits, only 17.7% strongly agreed that they understand, while 38% responded disagreed somewhat or strongly that they understand the impact. \

Focus on prevention and wellness
We'll all be learning more about the law and its implications for employers. In addition to the way that it will effect benefit offerings, the law will also have many implications for prevention and wellness, both on and off the job. The law calls for substantial annual allocations for prevention and public health awareness campaigns - some of which may assist in changing behaviors, much the way that the past anti-littering and no-smoking public awareness initiatives changed behaviors over time. In addition to the general public awareness campaigns, there are numerous programs that will be targeted specifically to the workplace and to workplace wellness initiatives.

At the NIOSH Science Blog, Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health John Howard summarizes many of the prevention provisions in new law. He cites the following specific employer-based initiatives:

  • Provide employers with technical assistance, consultation, tools, and other resources to evaluate employer-based wellness programs including evaluating such programs as they relate to changes in employees' health status, absenteeism, productivity, medical costs, and the rate of workplace injury.
  • Build evaluation capacity among workplace staff by training employers on how to evaluate employer-based wellness programs utilizing mechanisms such as web portals, call centers, etc.
  • Within two years, conduct a national worksite health policies and programs survey to assess employer-based health policies and programs followed by a report to Congress with recommendations for the implementation of effective employer-based health policies and programs.

In a reply to questions and comments that follow his blog posting, Howard notes that the NIOSH role in such programs is still unclear. He is asked if the new provisions will include any change in the current system that separates medical care for people injured on the job vs off the job. He notes that he is unaware of any efforts to unite the non-occupational and occupational healthcare systems, citing the obstacle that workers' compensation insurance is regulated by the 50 states.

March 30, 2010

April Health & Wellness Observances and Events

April is a busy month for health & wellness observances. We've gathered a few links and resources to help with your wellness communication programs.

Alcohol Awareness Month
Cancer Control Month
Autism Awareness Month
Child Abuse Prevention Month
Donate Life Month
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month
Minority Health Month
Sexual Assault Awarenss Month
Sexually Transmitted Infections Month
Stress Awareness Month

Specific dates
April 2 - National Walk to Work Day
April 7 - World Health Day
April 15 - Tax Day
April 16 - often observed in the U.S. as "National Stress Day"
April 20 - SAAM Day (formerly A Day to End Sexual Violence)
April 21 - Administrative Professionals Day
April 22 - Earth Day

March 13, 2010

Wellness: March is save your vision month

In the course of the work day today, about 2,000 workers will suffer a work-related eye injury which requires medical treatment. According the the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 36,000 eye injuries require time away from work each year. More accidents happen on Wednesday than any other day of the week. Chemical burns are the top injury, followed by cuts, lacerations and punctures. And with nearly half of all Americans using a computer or smart phone each day, eye strain is a growing complaint.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), most eye injuries are preventable. In a press release marking March as Save Your Vision Month, they offer tips for preventing eye injuries at work. They also suggest preventative steps, such as visits for a complete eye exam every two years. Most health insurance plans include periodic eye exams and some employers also offer supplementary vision benefits. Eye safety and eye health are an important part of a comprehensive wellness program, but studies show that vision benefits are often underutilized and employees show a lack of understanding about the importance of preventative care. That's too bad, because eye exams can often be an early warning system for detecting diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol.

Tips to ease eye strain
Included in their release, AOA offers the following tips to protect your eyes and reduce eye strain when using a computer:

  • Give It A Rest: Remember the 20-20-20 rule. At least every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. The Eye-Q® survey found that the majority of Americans don't follow this rule; more than half (59 percent) take breaks every hour, or less frequently.
  • Size Up: Smaller screens on hand-held devices usually favor tiny type that challenges your vision. Instead of bringing the screen closer to the eyes, increase the font size so the device can be used at a distance that is more comfortable for your eyes.
  • Sharpen Up: Better resolution offers greater clarity and usually more comfort. Adjust the brightness of the screen to a comfortable intensity, neither too bright nor too dim.
  • Reduce Glare: Hand-held devices present challenges in various lighting conditions. When possible, try to make sure lighting is not directly behind the head or in front. The AOA recommends users try to reduce glare, which may ease reading and can make a bigger difference than increasing the font.
  • Look Down: It's easier on the eyes to focus on reading material that is below eye level, therefore, the AOA recommends a computer monitor or hand-held device be positioned slightly below eye level.

Additional resources for eye health and safety
One of the best sites we've found for eye safety is an extensive list of Eye Safety and Health links and resources compiled by Oklahoma State University's Environmental Health & Safety department. These include work-related topics about eye protection and eye safety, as well as resources for general eye health.

Eye strain
22 ways to reduce eye strain at your computer
Computer eye strain - 10 steps for relief
How to relieve computer eye strain

Other occupational eye safety resources
Eye safety - from NIOSH
Workplace Eye Safety - from Prevent Blindness
Ten Ways to Prevent Eye Injuries at Work - from Prevent Blindness
Eye Safety Tool Box - from NIOSH
Eye and Face Protection e-Tool - from OSHA

October 5, 2009

A focus on wellness: Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "American society has become 'obesogenic,' characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity." The CDC notes that during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.

A look at the two charts below dramatically tell the picture over the past 20 or so years. For a really chilling effect, you can play all the years and data as an animated obesity map on the CDC obesity trends page.



Obesity is Costly
In 2000, the CDC put obesity-related health care costs at an estimated $117 billion. Between 1987 and 2001, diseases associated with obesity account for 27% of the increases in medical costs. Medical expenditures for obese workers, depending on severity of obesity and sex, are between 29%–117% greater than expenditures for workers with normal weight.

The CDC has developed various tools for employers:
Obesity Cost Calculator, which uses input data provided by your human resources/benefits staff to calculate your organization's estimated obesity-related costs. It also helps to estimate the costs/benefits of user-defined interventions targeted at reducing obesity.

LEAN Works, a free web-based resource that offers interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design effective worksite obesity prevention and control programs.

Tools Index, including a complete list of resources to help you plan, build, promote and assess a worksite obesity prevention and control program.

Resources and publications, a list of links to information about weight, nutrition, health, weight loss, research, reports, and more.

August 31, 2009

Wellness incentives and workers comp

Despite the difficult economic climate, wellness programs are thriving. According to a recent survey by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health, the number of companies adding wellness and health management programs continues to grow. And according to the survey, "... even moderate incentives can help engage employees in healthy behaviors. Financial incentives between $51 and $100 can boost participation in smoking cessation and weight management programs and encourage workers to get biometric screenings. Higher participation in health risk appraisals is associated with incentives greater than $100."

So incentives work. But sometimes they can run headlong into the law of unintended consequence. Take the case of Frank P. Torre v. Logic Technology, in which which a New York appeals court awarded workers comp benefits to an employee for an injury sustained in the gym. Usually, injuries that happen during extracurricular activities aren't covered by workers comp, but there are exceptions, such as when injuries occur during "mandatory attendance" events or while an employee is on business travel (see: Mandatory fun: when recreational activities are compensable and When play becomes work, or the case of the traveling employee).

In this case, the employee was on his own time at the gym - the injury did not appear "to arise out of and in the course of employment," the usual test for compensability under workers comp. But in this case, the court determined that gym participation was furthering the employer's business interest due to the networking potential. When it is determined that an employer has derived significant business benefit from an activity - such as interacting with clients and prospects - then an activity may be compensable.

The courts also noted that the employer encouraged and sponsored this activity. In this case, the sponsorship entailed reimbursement for gym membership fees. One has to wonder what kind of chilling effect a ruling like this could have on wellness programs. Employers frequently incent employees by paying for or supplementing gym membership, exercise programs, and weight loss or smoking cessation programs, and as noted in the above survey, some companies also offer financial incentives for participating in wellness programs, or impose disincentives such as increased cost for insurance premiums for not participating.

Wellness programs are beneficial for workers comp
Comorbidities like obesity and diabetes have been shown to have an impact on claim frequency and severity so it would appear that wellness programs would have a positive net effect on workers comp costs. It would seem there should be a more symbiotic relationship between wellness and workers comp, but to date, that hasn't seemed to be the case. We'll have to keep an eye on court decisions to see if this NY case will prove the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, employers should proceed with caution because endorsement and sponsorship can be tricky when it comes to workers comp. In days gone by, sponsorship generally referred to softball or bowling teams and employers could take some steps top mitigate risks. But as employers become more aggressive about wellness programs in an effort to control health care costs and these wellness programs become more ingrained in the corporate culture, does the compensability exposure increase? Some of the variables that have come into play in determining compensability are the location and time of the activity - is the gym on the employer's premises? Does the activity take place during work hours? Another factor is how strongly the company encourages participation and whether participation is purely voluntary. If a corporate culture is such that it so strongly endorses an activity, the issue of whether participation is truly voluntary could be up for debate.

June 29, 2009

Survey: Recession taking a toll on employee physical and mental health

Time to beef up that wellness program and up your communications about your health benefit programs and your EAP? That might just be a good idea, according to the results of a recent survey, which found that employee health care choices and behaviors are being affected by the tough economic climate.

Last month, the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) - an organization which represents 300 large employers that provide health care benefits to a combined 55 million workers, dependents, and retirees - reported the results of a survey conducted with 1500 employees between the ages of 22 and 69. The purpose of the survey was "to ascertain how the recession is affecting American workers (PDF) and to provide a snapshot about those areas where businesses should work more closely with their employees to help support them during a very challenging environment."

Among the findings:

  • More than one-in-four respondents - 27 percent - report forgoing health care treatment to save money on copayments or coinsurance costs
  • One in five respondents - 20 percent - skipped taking their prescription drug medication dosage as prescribed by their doctor; 17 percent split a prescription drug dosage in half to make it last longer
  • Many workers, particularly older workers (44 percent of those aged 45-64), report that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.
In addition, nearly three out of four employees said they have become more aware of the total cost of healthcare, more than half have become more aware of what they pay for insurance, and about one in four changed health plans as a result of this cost awareness. About two-thirds of all employees whose employer offers financial incentives indicate that it has motivated them to try to lead a healthier life.

NBGH sees the results of this survey as an opportunity for employers to help their workers cope and thrive. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Use benefit statements to clearly articulate a commitment to wellness
  • Consider offering financial incentives to motivate health behavior changes
  • Emphasize that managing healthcare costs is not the same as foregoing necessary medical care and prescriptions
  • Reinforce that exercise is the best way to control costs, improve physical health, and reduce stress
  • Communicate aggressively about availability of financial counseling and mental health services available through stand-alone programs and Employee Assistance Programs(EAPs)
  • Help employees understand the link between mental health and the impact on future physical health
  • Ask your vendors to screen for depression and other stress-related health problems and behaviors

April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Resources for Employers

We've compiled a list of swine flu resources that we think might be helpful to employers. We'll post more as we find them.

How Employers Should Respond to the Swine Flu Outbreak - the Workplace Safety Compliance Practice Group of the employment law firm Jackson Lewis suggests 8 steps for employers to take in responding to employee concerns.

PandemicFlu.gov - Workplace Planning - HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed guidelines, including checklists, to assist businesses, industries, and other employers in planning for a pandemic outbreak as well as for other comparable catastrophes.

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic - a new guide for employers from OSHA

CDC Swine Influenza - news, updates, and resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WHO Swine Influenza - global updates and news from the World Health Organization.

MedlinePlus: Swine Flu - excellent page with news, articles and links to a variety of resources.

Taking Care of Yourself: What to Do if You Get Sick with Flu - from the CDC
Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home - from the CDC

Swine Flu Meets Workers Comp - Jon Coppelman discusses compensability issues related to work-related illnesses.

Global disease alert map from HealthMap
H1N1 Swine Flu

News feeds
CDC Emergency Twitter feed
What's new on the CDC Swine Flu page
CNN Health News
Y! Health Cold & Flu News

March 16, 2009

Workers' comp study: costs at least 3x higher for obese workers

Roberto Ceniceros, writing for Business Insurance, notes that National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has released preliminary findings on an upcoming report on obesity which shows that workers' comp medical claims open for one year cost three times as much when the injured employee is obese, and claims that are open for five years are five times more costly when involving an obese claimant. For smaller claims, the study will show that the cost differential can be even greater.

Employers already know that obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other common health conditions are having an enormous impact on the cost of health care and group health insurance, but may be unaware of the impact that these conditions can have on the duration and cost of recovery after workplace injuries. While the frequency of worker injuries has been dropping consistently over the last decade, the severity of the injuries that has been increasing when measured in terms of the duration and cost of those injuries. The presence of co-morbid conditions such as obesity may is likely a factor in the increased severity. There have been numerous studies linking obesity to high medical costs and longer duration of lost time. One 2007 study documenting the cost link between obesity and workers comp by researchers at Duke University found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers' compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than non-obese workers.

Workers' comp programs and group health programs are often managed in two very different workplace environments: occupational safety, prevention, and other issues related to workers comp are most often managed by risk managers and safety staff. General employee health issues are usually tucked under an organization's benefits and human resources department as part of group health - or under a wellness program, if one exists. But increasingly, data shows that the two are often inextricably linked and it makes good sense to address health issues with a more holistic approach. For more on the matter of wellness programs and the effects on workers comp, the 2008 NCCI Issues Report includes an article by Bill Thorness called Wellness Comp (PDF), in which he addresses the issue of whether there is a place for health promotion programs in workers' comp.

February 10, 2009

It's National Heart Failure Awareness Week

This week is National Heart Failure Awareness Week - a good opportunity to remind your employees of who is at risk and what the symptoms of heart failure are. This week - or really any week - you might want to incorporate some of the available resources in your wellness program communications. Chances are, this is important information for your work force since heart failure is estimated to affect nearly five million people of all ages and is responsible for more hospitalizations than all forms of cancer combined. It is often undiagnosed because many who are affected mistake the symptoms for tiredness or normal aging.

There are some groups who are more at risk than others: people over the age of 65; African Americans; people suffering form diabetes; people who are overweight; people with high blood pressure; people with a family history of heart problems.

People often expect signs of heart failure to be sudden and dramatic, but symptoms are often gradual and occur over a long period of time. They are often unrecognized because people are unaware of what to look for. Some symptoms of heart failure include:
# Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
# Difficulty breathing when lying down
# Weight gain with swelling in the legs and ankles from fluid retention
# General fatigue and weakness
# Frequent cough with frothy sputum
# Increased urination at night

Additional resources
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure - American Heart Association
Heart Failure - The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Heart Failure Symptoms - The Mayo Clinic
Heart Failure Symptoms - HeartHelp.com
Take the Heart Failure Assessment - HeartHelp.com
Heart failure classifications - HeartHelp.com

October 30, 2008

What scares people the most?

According to an August online survey of 2,424 American adults, when asked about what they fear the most, here are some of the responses:

  • 16% - being in a plane crash
  • 13% - snake bites
  • 5% - being hit by lightning
  • 5% - getting a disease
  • 4% - a shark attack

The survey was conducted by the American Diabetes Association to drive home the point that our fears are often disconnected from the real threats in our lives. Last year, 491 deaths related to commercial aviation accidents occurred, while diabetes contributed to 233,619 deaths in 2005.

November is American Diabetes Month, an event that is worth noting in every corporate wellness program throughout the nation. More than 24 million Americans or 7.8% of the population suffer from diabetes, and it is estimated that another 5.7 million are simply undiagnosed. Since 1987 the death rate due to diabetes has increased by 45%, while the death rates due to heart disease, stroke, and cancer have declined.

For those with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association suggests that keeping blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol in control can make a difference in reducing risk for heart attack or stroke and annual dilated eye exams; routine foot exams and blood pressure checks can prevent blindness, amputations, heart disease, kidney disease, and strokes.

For more information and resources:
American Diabetes Association, or call 1-800-DIABETES (342-2383)
Diabetes Cost Calculator
Diabetes at Work
Find local activities related to Diabetes Month
Study links work stress and burnout to an increase in type 2 diabetes
Obesity prevalence and costs on the rise

September 2, 2008

Obesity prevalence and costs on the rise

The prevalence of overweight and obese adults in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and if the trend continues, most adults in the U.S. will be overweight or obese by 2030, with related health care spending projected to be as much as $956.9 billion. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are sounding the warning bell that health care costs attributable to obesity are expected to more than double every decade.

Dr. Mark Nelson spends a lot of time thinking about obesity and the impact that it has on health. As a cardiologist, he sees the deleterious results of obesity every day in his practice: heart disease and strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoarthritis, breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, and more. He also notes that obesity can be extremely disruptive to a person's normal life activities, including their ability to be productively and gainfully employed. He points to an increase in work absenteeism and cites the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy's recent report indicating that obesity increases the risk for on-the-job injuries.

Nelson believes that employers can and should play a critical role in tackling obesity and encourages corporate wellness programs to take a proactive approach to solving this problem. By focusing on obesity reduction, organizations can build a healthier, more productive work force while reducing some of the human and economic costs associated with obesity. Employers are in a unique position of influence with employees, and because employees spend so much time at work, it is the logical place to help instill and reinforce healthy habits that will support weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Nelson states that it is not only important for individual to lose weight, but that they must learn healthy eating habits that will allow them to sustain the weight loss. He believes that many weight problems are the result of people not having learned the basic habits of health in the first place, including the importance of balanced nutrition, eating frequent small healthy meals, and exercising regularly. He views health habits as the cornerstone for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. One approach that he favors is the Take Shape for Life program, which assigns health coaches to guide participants through both rapid safe weight loss and teaching Habits of Health so people can learn how to maintain a healthy body weight. Nelson emphasizes that being at a healthy body weight is the beginning, not the end, of the road to health.

Nelson suggests that employers can help in the battle against obesity by:

  • Providing information about the many health risks associated with obesity and dramatic risk reduction when overweight or obese individuals attain a healthy body weight
  • Educating employees about the benefits of healthy habits, such as good nutrition, frequent small healthy meals and frequent exercise
  • Ensuring that cafeterias and vending machines offer healthy food and beverage alternatives
  • Sponsoring or subsidizing health and wellness programs. Nelson believes the Take Shape for Life program deserves serious consideration because it costs employers nothing while helping employees (for whom the program is cost neutral) lose weight and improve their health
  • Encouraging or sponsoring periodic health risk assessments
  • Partnering with and tapping into health care providers who are experienced in Health and Wellness work
Nelson believes that by addressing obesity in a meaningful way, corporate wellness programs have a real opportunity to help their employees lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives while also accruing benefits to their organization's bottom line.

Dr. Mark Nelson MD, MPH, FACC specializes in general cardiovascular disease and has a particular interest in disease prevention and creating health for his patients. To contact Dr. Nelson or to learn more about the Take Shape for Life, you can view an archived webinar or contact mnelsonmd@nycap.rr.com

August 8, 2008

Workplace smoke-free laws

Six years ago, only two states had laws prohibiting smoking in the workplace and other public spaces. Today, nearly half of all states have laws mandating smoke-free workplaces, with several new laws scheduled to go in effect in 2009. In addition, as of July 1, 2008, there are 2,883 municipalities with local ordinances that ban or restrict smoking in the workplace. The American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation has compiled a directory of States, Commonwealths, and Municipalities with 100% Smokefree Laws in Workplaces, Restaurants, or Bars (PDF) in effect as of July 1, 2008. They also produce a quick reference map of state laws.

If your state does not yet have a smoke-free workplace law, you might consider implementing your own policy. The Centers for Disease Control offer a Decision maker's Guide to Making Your Workplace Smokefree. According to the American Lung Association, there are many good reasons to do so:

  • A 2005 study estimated the total cost of secondhand smoke exposure in the United States at $10 billion annually, $5 billion in direct medical costs, and $5 billion in indirect costs such as lost productivity
  • Workers have been awarded unemployment, disability and worker's compensation benefits for illness and loss of work due to exposure to secondhand smoke
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that $4 billion to $8 billion in building operations and maintenance costs would be saved if policies prohibiting smoking in workplaces were adopted nationwide

Sample policy statements
Here are a few resources for developing your organization's policy.
The American Cancer Society: Model workplace policy
Americans for Nonsmokers Rights: Model Policy for a Smokefree Workplace
About.com's Human Resources; Smoke Free Workplace Policy for Your Company
CDC: Resources, sample policies, and organizations with smoke-free workplaces (PDF)

July 10, 2008

Informed medical consumer or cyberchondriac?

Are you a cyberchondriac? According to a Harris Poll, you are if you are one of the 160 million Americans that uses the Web to search for health care information. While we are happy to learn of so many informed consumers, we think that the term cyberchondriac is bit of a misnomer given that it is a neologism coined from the words "cyber" and "hypochondriac." It's probably unfair to categorize most health care searchers as hypochondriacs - by and large, most of these people would be better called "informed medical consumers."

With Web access, people can find research and information about health matters and medical conditions. Information about medication and its side effects is readily available. Support groups and message boards allow people with rare or life-threatening conditions to interact with others. Is there a downside to having so much information readily available to all? Some doctors might say yes. As the old saying goes, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." People who are not trained experts may misinterpret complicated medical data. Plus, not all online sources are accurate or reputable, and consumers can be careless about separating the wheat from the chaff.

Disease mongering
There's also the phenomena of disease mongering, or " ... the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments." As direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising became more prevalent, consumers were hit with any number of frightening conditions they had never previously heard of, from restless legs to toenail fungus. The power of suggestion can be strong, as any marketer will attest. While disease mongering is not exactly a new phenomena - witness the traveling medicine shows of the last century - television and the Web have given messages a broader reach. Years ago, we worried about our breath and whether we had dandruff. That seems almost quaint now as we are encouraged to tend to the state of our esophagus and determine whether or not our bowels are irritable.

The real thing
But what of the real cyberchodndriacs? There's quite a continuum between the average person who Googles for some medical information and the person for whom it is an obsession, and at the far end of the spectrum there are some very troubled people. The word "cyber" can be distracting, it's really just the 21st century wired version of the hypochondriac that has been an archetype for most of recorded history. The information-at-your-fingertips access that the Web affords simply allows the hypochondriac to obsess a little more.

Ongoing, chronic complaints about health may indeed be a signal of an undiagnosed medical condition. But, often, preoccupation with health and illness is a red flag for depression, anxiety, or phobia. Hypochondria is not actually about the physical but the mental and can be a very debilitating problem, which has been described as not feeling safe in your own body. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, hypochondriacs may be convinced that they have a serious illness. The good news is that it is a condition that can be successfully treated with therapy.

The Mayo Clinic has some great resources on hypochondria. The list the common symptoms of hypochondria as:

  • Excessive fear or anxiety about having a particular disease or condition
  • Worry that minor symptoms mean you have a serious illness
  • Seeking repeated medical exams or consultations
  • "Doctor shopping," or frequently switching doctors
  • Frustration with doctors or medical care
  • Strained social relationships
  • Obsessive health research
  • Emotional distress
  • Frequent checking of your body for problems, such as lumps or sores
  • Frequent checking of vital signs, such as pulse or blood pressure
  • Inability to be reassured by good medical exams
  • Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it
  • Avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious, such as being in a hospital

HR managers and line supervisors really don't have to be concerned about discerning who in the work force is a bit of a fanatic Googler and who is a hypochondriac. The real barometer is performance and any performance changes or inhibitors. When an employee's life problems begin affecting performance, that's when an EAP can be most effective.

June 26, 2008

Mental illness and the workplace

The Globe and Mail of Toronto is featuring an excellent series of articles on the stigma of mental illness as told through the personal stories of people who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. The stories also include commentary and insights from family members. It's a multimedia series, including videos, slides and text.

More than many other public health issues, mental illness is fraught with fear, guilt, and shame - often because there is a great deal of ignorance surrounding the topic. Family members who are caring for a loved one suffering from a mental health condition can feel particularly isolated and have difficulty knowing where to turn.

Employers are often in a position to be an 'early warning system' for mental health issues. Behavior changes can be more evident in a routine situation like a job. In one article in The Globe and Mail series, Bill Wilkerson, co-founder and CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, answers reader questions about mental illness in the workplace. He makes an excellent case for why this should concern employers - one that we would like to share here:

Employers must care about the mental health of their employees for three reasons: one, health and productivity go hand-in hand - for employers, this is a matter of legitimate self-interest and huge costs to rein-in;
two, employers - through the climates they create in the workplace - can cause some of the risk factors which affect the well-being of people - chronic job stress, for example, can lead to burn-out and depression. Employers are increasingly being held accountable by courts and tribunals for their role in producing hazardous work climates so they need to protect themselves against these kinds of liabilities;
and three, a good employer is led by good people - by definition this is true - and most employers strive to be good employers. Which, in turn means, they can and must do the right thing by ensuring that human decency is part of their management credo. Without this, they will be hard-pressed to recruit and retain the best people and that goes to their competitive instincts as well.
I like to remind employers that when we hire someone we hire the whole person - vulnerabilities included. And if we didn't do that, we would have to recruit people from another universe because all of us vulnerable to one kind of illness or health problem.
He continues on to offer suggestions for how employers should deal with employees who are out on leave for mental health issues and how such employees should be integrated back to the workplace in return to work programs - much in the same way that any other disability might be managed. Yet despite the cost implications for employers and the prospects of a positive outcome when treatment is provided, frequently, mental health problems in the workplace are often quietly ignored.

The new wellness frontier?
In recent years, corporate wellness programs have firmly taken root as employers recognize the cost and productivity benefits of helping employees to stay well. Nutrition and exercise programs are now fairly common, as are programs to help people control risky behaviors like smoking and overeating. But physical well being is only one part of the equation - as many as one in five American workers suffer some form of mental illness. Because of this, incorporating good mental health programs into an overall wellness program can be highly beneficial. This might take the form of training supervisors to have a greater awareness and understanding of common mental health problems such as stress, PTSD, and depression, as well as conducting educational and awareness outreach programs for employees. As with many health issues, awareness and identification of a potential problem is the first step in getting help. Many effective, cost-efficient and scientifically valid treatments exist. Contrary to many myths, most mental health issues respond favorably to the right treatment. Your EAP is a good resource for addressing any ongoing behavior or performance issues that may signify an underlying mental health problem.

Mental health in the workplace - from Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association)
Mental Illness and the workplace - from the Center for Reintegration

June 3, 2008

Wellness programs on the rise

According to two recent surveys, more and more employers are implementing wellness programs. Human Resource Executive reports that surveys by both Aon Consulting and Watson Wyatt Worldwide / NBGH demonstrate that employers are ratcheting up initiatives designed to improve worker health.

The Aon survey, which polled more than 1100 employers of various sizes, found a dramatic threefold jump in employer initiatives. The Watson Wyatt survey, which focused on large employers, showed a 28% jump in the use of health appraisals since 2006. The increases were attributed to escalating medical costs and a global labor shortage that is forcing more reliance on an older population. Employers are seeking to reduce costs and to find ways to keep their workers healthy and active.

Despite these promising reports, other recent research indicates that small and mid-sized employers are significantly lagging behind larger companies in offering wellness initiatives. Joanne Wojcik reports on a survey conducted by Principal Financial Group in Workforce which showed that, when offered, wellness programs are very popular and have a high participation rate. But while 26% of employers with 501 to 1,000 employees offered wellness educational tools and discounts, only 12% of employers with fewer than 500 employees offered wellness programs.

If you are in a small organization that is not yet offering wellness benefits for your employees, what are you waiting for? Wellness programs can help to reduce the high cost of health care for you and your employees and can enhance your worker health, well-being and productivity. There are many inexpensive initiatives you can undertake to enhance worker health. Start with investigating the free or low cost alternatives available to you. Some top-shelf EAP programs offer wellness benefits as part of their package. Your health insurer may also have free or low cost options such as health screenings that could be incorporated in an annual health fair. Large national health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society offer free literature, programs, and resources. Other alternatives include implementing programs that will help employees change behaviors, such as launching walking or biking clubs, replacing junk food with healthier alternatives in the cafeteria vending machines, and offering employee incentives or discounts for participating in exercise or weight loss programs.

April 24, 2008

Long-term weight loss study: the right tools can help maintain weight loss

Almost every U.S. business is looking for ways to reduce the cost of health insurance. Clearly, obesity is a significant driver of health care cost as it often leads to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and worse. As a result, here at ESI, we've added lifestyle benefits like nutrition counseling, exercise programs, and on-line personal trainers to our employee assistance program. A recent study on long-term weight control conducted by Duke University Medical Center shows we might be on the right track.

In what is being billed as the largest and longest study of weight loss maintenance strategies, researchers at Duke found that personal contact and computer-based support systems were helpful in keeping weight off.

Dr. Laura Svetkey and researchers at four institutions around the country studied 1,685 overweight or obese adults who were being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both. They asked these individuals to make lifestyle changes like reducing calorie intake, increasing activity, and to follow a healthy diet with a goal of losing at least 9 pounds in 20 weeks. 61% of the participants achieved the goal.

Those that achieved the goal were then divided into three groups: as self directed group; a personal contact group where they received coaching and support from a counselor; or a computer based, weight loss maintenance program that offered the same counseling that personal contact offered, but in a virtual, interactive format.

The results are impressive; more than 70 percent weighed less at the end of the 30 month study. Those with personal contact were the most successful with 77% maintaining some weight loss. At a 69% success rate, the computer-intervention group was slightly more successful than the self-directed group at 67%.

EAP provides comprehensive wellness benefits
Your employee assistance program should include a full complement of wellness benefits. Here at ESI, we offer many tools to our members to help reduce the high personal and work costs that obesity can incur. There are on-line health risk appraisals, discount gym memberships, on-line personal trainers, nutrition counseling, and discounts with Jenny Craig. In addition, members can talk to counselors to help address any issue including their lifestyle.

March 12, 2008

Aging and work

We all know that as baby boomers age, there are more and more older workers in the workplace. But how many centenarians do you have at your workplace? A rather remarkable 101 year-old British bloke has been in the news because he is training for the London Marathon. He has to fit his training in his spare time because he is still employed three days a week at a plumbing firm. On this side of "the pond," we have our own centenarian workers - meet 101 year-old Ray Jenkins, who was named as America's Oldest Worker in 2007. This hearty Vermonter has been putting in a 40-hour work week as a maintenance worker on the grounds of the Champlain Valley Exposition.

It's likely we will hear more stories like this. According to the New England Centenarian Study, "Centenarians are the fastest growing segment of our population. The second fastest is the age group 85+."

Experts point to loyalty, work ethic, enthusiasm and experience as assets of the older work force. How ready is your workplace for the over-65 generation? The Center on Aging & Work at Boston is a good resource to have in your Rolodex and to check on every now and again to see their latest research. Right now, they are working on State Perspectives, including statistical profiles and The States as Employers Of Choice project. And for another resource, the Aging Workforce News is a blog that links to news and resources for managing the aging workforce.

Curious about whether you'll one day join the ranks of centenarian workers? You and your employees can take the Living to 100 calculator test (it requires registration at the end) to estimate your longevity. It also offers the following:

  • Personalized feedback for each of your answers
  • A Personalized "To-Do" list for you and your physician
  • A list of things you can do differently and how many years you will add if you do so
  • The option to sign up to take the calculator again so you can keep track of your answers see if your calculated life expectancy gets better or worse.
  • A yearly reminder to take the test again.

February 26, 2008

Get Ready for March 25: Diabetes Alert Day

Here's a simple thing you can do to help improve the health of your work force: promote and encourage your employees to take the online Diabetes Risk Test on March 25. It's a simple thing to do, and you might save some lives. Why not encourage this in your next newsletter or intranet communication? The American Diabetes Association offers a full range of promotional materials in English and Spanish that you can use.

Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but about one-third of them are unaware that they have diabetes. And about 54 million are estimated to be prediabetic. One in five Americans is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

On Diabetes Alert Day, the American Diabetes Association urges the over 60 million Americans who are unaware they have diabetes or who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes to take the Diabetes Risk Test, a imple seven simple question self-assessment about weight, age, lifestyle and family history -- all potential risk factors for diabetes. People scoring 10 points or more are at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and are encouraged to see a health care professional

Among the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes are being overweight, sedentary, over the age of 45 and having a family history of diabetes. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk, as are women who have had babies weighing more than nine pounds at birth.

The American Diabetes Association offers a diabetes cost calculator by state, and offers the following national cost assessment:

The national cost of diabetes in the U.S. in 2007 exceeds $174 billion. This estimate includes $116 billion in excess medical expenditures attributed to diabetes, as well as $58 billion in reduced national productivity. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures that are approximately 2.3 times higher than the expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. Approximately $1 in $10 health care dollars is attributed to diabetes. Indirect costs include increased factors such as absenteeism, reduced productivity, and lost productive capacity due to early mortality.

For another resource, see Diabetes at Work. The site offers a range of business-specific tools and resources to help you estimate the prevalence of diabetes in your organization and develop a diabetes prevention or management program. It includes some case studies of companies that have had successful efforts.

February 1, 2008

Superbowl Monday - brace yourselves for lower than average productivity

Not to be the fly in the punchbowl here, but if a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Kronos Incorporated is accurate, as many as 1.5 million people may be calling in sick on Monday. And if your workers aren't calling in sick, they may be late. Based on survey responses, it is estimated that as many as 4.4 million workers could be late to work the day after the Super Bowl. This on top of the productivity that's already been lost - Challenger, Grey, and Christmas, an employment consulting firm, estimate that businesses weather up to $848.5 million in lost productivity in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

For most who miss work or arrive late, it will be due to temporary fatigue or spirited overindulgence. But for some, watching sports can be more hazardous. Experts caution against becoming a Super Bowl statistic* - a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine links the stress and emotions of watching sports to an increased risk for chest pains or cardiac arrest. The study tracked 4,279 Bavarian hear patients, and found that the rate of heart attacks was three times greater on days when the German national team was playing than other periods.

If you are celebrating on Sunday, here are 15 suggestions for a healthy Super Bowl party. Also, football great Joe Montana, who has worked to educate people about the dangers of high blood pressure, offers his own suggestions great heart-healthy Super Bowl recipes.

Unfortunately, we don't have any good recipes to suggest for any productivity headaches you may face on Monday. You might want to go with the flow and join the Make Super Bowl Monday a National Holiday crowd.

(*free registration may be required)

December 1, 2007

December health & wellness observances

Tie One on for Safety - Typically, about 1,000 people are killed in alcohol related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) targets this high-risk time with an annual "Tie One on for Safety" campaign to raise awareness about and prevent drunk driving over the holiday season. MADD invites all Americans to put a red ribbon or window decal on their vehicles as a pledge to drive safely, soberly, and with seat belts buckled during the holidays and throughout the year. Seat belts are an important aspect of the safety message because a buckled seat belt is the best defense against a drunk driver. Employers can support and reinforce this message throughout the month and can incorporate safe practices in any holiday celebrations. And speaking of driving safety, do you conduct an annual review of license status for all employees that have driving as an essential job task? If not, that might be a good resolution for early in the new year.

Toy Safety - With December being the world's biggest gift-giving month, it's fitting that it should also be toy safety month. More than 65% of annual sales of the 3 billion toys sold in the U.S. occur in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Safe Kids USA offers a comprehensive site on toy safety, with tips, buying guides, and lists of recalls. ToyInfo.org is a toy industry sponsored site that also offers buying information and links to comprehensive recall lists.

Handwashing Awareness Week - Since 1999, the first week of December is Handwashing Awareness Week and Henry the Hand has been a tireless ambassador in carrying a serious message: the importance of hand-washing in preventing the spread of illnesses and infectious diseases. Henry is the brainchild of a Dr. William sawyer, an international expert in hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. He employees the friendly, humorous mascot of Henry the Hand to carry frank talk about the spread of germs to kids and their parents.

World AIDS Day - While December 1 is World AIDS Day with a 2007 theme being "Leadership," every day is really a good day to communicate about AIDS and AIDS prevention. Both The National Institute for Health and MedlinePlus offer comprehensive resources on treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, with everything from multilingual fact sheets to information on clinical trials, vaccines, various health topics, and information for various special populations such as teens and seniors.

November 1, 2007

November health and wellness observances

Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer's is the 11th leading cause of death for adults age 65 and older. It's estimated that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and, unless a cure or significant treatment is found, it's predicted that as many as 14 million will have the disease by 2050. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, it is a progressive and fatal brain disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, it is the most common form of dementia, destroying brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. While there is no cure, there are treatments to mitigate symptoms.

American Diabetes Month - One in four Americans either currently has diabetes or are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. There are 21 million U.S. children and adults living with diabetes, and another 54 million people are at-risk. In some populations - such as Latinos and Native Americans, the news is even worse, with the rate rising to as much as one out of every two people. It's an illness that sas reached epidemic proportion, sometimes called America's quiet crisis, it is exacerbated by weight gain and lack of exercise. It is progressive and often fatal disease characterized by many serious medical complications, and as such, a prime contributor to the nation's rising health costs. Yet at least in terms of Type 2 Diabetes, behavior change such as a decrease in weight and an increase in exercise may help to prevent or delay the onset. This is an area where work-based wellness programs can have a positive impact. The American Diabetes Association offers tools, activities and resources for promoting Diabetes awareness and healthy lifestyles at your workplace.

And hand-in-hand with this focus on diabetes, November is also Diabetic Eye Disease Month

Family Caregiver Month - It is estimated that 50 million family caregivers across the country currently provide more than $306 billion in "free" caregiving services. We've previously discussed how caregivers are at heightened risk for financial, physical, and emotional problems. And according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the cost of caregivers in the workplace may be as high as $33.6 billion a year in missed days, early departures, and on-the-job distractions. The National Family Caregivers Association offers a list of caregiving resources as well as a community message board.

Great American Smokeout - While the big day is November 15, it's not too early to start publicizing and gearing up - smokers often benefit by setting a target "quit day" in advance. Several sites provide resources and activities, including The American Cancer Society offers alternatives: Quit For You and another site with resources for smokers. They also offer a worksite toolkit. The Centers for Disease Control offers a few good posters along with other materials.

Epilepsy Awareness Month - According to the Centers for Disease Control epilepsy currently affects approximately 3 million persons in the United States and is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. The Epilepsy Foundation, which is a great resource for information, resources and networking, offers this insight: Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition in children and the third most common in adults after Alzheimer's and stroke. Despite modern therapy, about one million people continue to experience seizures or significant side effects from treatment. An Epilepsy Foundation report published in 2000 revealed that epilepsy costs the nation more than $16.6 billion a year in health care and unemployment. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime during their life. One percent of the population -- more than 3 million Americans -- are treated for epilepsy, most commonly with antiseizure medications.

October 2, 2007

Gratitude: The Path to Happiness

Here's a seemingly impossible task—In the middle of your next busy day, put aside thoughts of work responsibilities or your kids' soccer schedule and take a minute to be thankful for what you have. According to recent research, you'll be much happier if you do!

Since 1998, Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, has been studying the role that gratitude plays in happiness. As it turns out, grateful people are happy people. "People who show gratitude experience significantly higher levels of joy and other positive emotions," says Dr. Emmons. "They also seem much less bothered by minor illnesses and common stressors."

But gratitude was not a natural subject for Emmons. "Psychologists have a long history of studying things they're bad at. I was always someone who took things for granted." Indeed, his research revealed that a lot of people have obstacles to gratitude. The demands of everyday life and a resistance to being dependent on others are the two biggest. "Gratitude is the opposite of personal autonomy; you're acknowledging that you are dependent on others and that can be very hard for some people."

However, those who make a conscious effort to "take stock" of the good things in their lives as well as those who have helped make those things possible (parents, friends, co-workers, neighbors) report much higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of stress and depression than those who are "me" centered. Grateful people also enjoy a greater sense of "connectedness" with their friends and family.

Other findings included:

  • Those who maintained a "gratitude journal" and made daily entries for three weeks experienced better sleep quality and duration as well as more energy than the control group.
  • "Gratitude journaling" resulted in quicker healing of illness and even seemed to lessen the pain of serious neuromuscular diseases.
  • A "gratitude intervention" in children produced more positive academic attitudes toward school in comparison with the control group.
  • Participants who maintained "gratitude journals" were significantly more likely to achieve personal goals (academic, interpersonal, health-based) over a two-month period than the control group.

If anger, fear, mistrust, or loneliness are impeding your ability to experience gratitude, you may wish to contact your employee assistance program to discuss how to achieve a more positive outlook on life!

September 28, 2007

October health and wellness observances

October is a busy month for health observances. We've selected a few and offer resources that might be useful in your wellness programs.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - A new report on breast cancer demonstrates that public awareness and early detection saves lives: the breast cancer death rate continues to fall by about 2% per year. But it remains leading cause of death for women, and this week we learn about a new study linking breast cancer to alcohol consumption. For news, resources, and help for survivors, visit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

National Depression Screening Day - Oct. 11 - Each year in America almost 30,000 people die by suicide, and 70% of those people tell someone or give warning signs before taking their own life. National Depression Screening Day provides mental health screenings and educational materials about common mental health problems, and it educates friends and family members about the signs of suicide and effective ways to respond to a loved one who may be at risk for suicide. The site has a wealth of information, including a clickable national map of screening sites.

Drive Safely Work Week - Oct 1-5 - The single greatest source of work-related fatalities is traffic related accidents. This annual campaign sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety is devoted to improving the safety and health of the nation's workforce by promoting safe driving practices at the workplace.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month - According to The Centers for Disease Control, victims of severe intimate partner violence (IPV) lose nearly 8 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity each year. Overall, IPV is estimated to cost nearly $6 billion a year. In terms of prevalence, 85% of IPV victims were women and groups with high risk include Indian/Alaskan Native women and men, African-American women, Hispanic women, and young women and those below the poverty line.

Sudden Infant Death (SIDs) Awareness Month - Despite some progress in reducing incidences in recent years, SIDS remains the leading cause of death for infants one month to one year of age, continuing to claim the lives of more than 2,000 babies each year. While there is no known prevention, there are steps parents can take to reduce the risk. The site offers facts and educational materials, as well as news and links to local activities.

Celiac Awareness Month - Celiac disease (CD) is a common genetic disorder. In people with CD, gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye) can trigger an autoimmune response which can damage the small intestine. This, in turn, causes the small intestine to lose its ability to absorb the nutrients found in food, leading to malnutrition and a variety of other complications. The main treatment is living a gluten-free life. The website offers resources to help people learn more about this disorder and how to live a gluten-free life.

August 31, 2007

September health and wellness observances

It's back to school month, and with it an uptick in the number of planned health observances. The following links represent a selection of the most prominent observances in September and are offered to aid you in your health and wellness communication efforts.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month - aims to promote the benefits of alcohol and drug abuse treatment, highlight the contributions of treatment providers, and promote the message that recovery from alcohol and drug use disorders in all its forms is possible. The site is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT).

National Cholesterol Education Month - the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has adopted a 2007 theme of "Know your cholesterol numbers—Know your risk—Give yourself some TLC." They sponsor an online Know Your Numbers, Know Your Risk online education kit with great information, including 10 ways to promote the month.

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month - reproductive cancer is often called the silent killer. This year, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation announced the first national consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms, important information that should be made available to all women. At the Woman's Cancer network, access printable brochures on the symptoms and risks of reproductive cancers.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month - these are blood-related cancers that originate in the bone marrow (leukemia) or lymphatic system (lymphoma). The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society estimates 30,600 new cases of leukemia and 61,000 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year. The linked site is sponsored by the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, and offers a variety of links to fact sheets and brochures. Additional information is available from The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month - While Sickle Cell is concentrated in black populations, it is not exclusively so, a fact that is little known. It is one of the most common inherited blood conditions and is characterized by anemia with a low red blood cell count and takes its name from the presence of sickle-shaped red cells in the blood. The Sickle Cell Center from Medicine.net offers information on causes, diagnoses, symptoms and treatment of the illness.

September 10 - World Suicide Prevention Day - sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with the World health Organization this year's theme is "Suicide Prevention Across the Lifespan" to emphasize that suicide occurs in all age groups and prevention efforts must be targeted to all groups. Plus, attempted suicide is conservatively estimated to be 10 to 20 times more frequent than actual suicide, especially in younger women. The economic costs of suicide and suicide attempts to society are substantial, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, and reflect the economic potential of years of life lost, the medical and treatment costs of suicide attempts, and the burden of care and suffering of families and friends of those who die by suicide and those who engage in various forms of suicidal behavior. The linked site offers informational brochures in English, French and Chinese.

August 7, 2007

Heat can be a killer at work and at home

The summer of 2007 is turning out to be one of the hottest on record, particularly in the western states - and it's not over yet. During the last 20 years, well over 8,000 people have died in our country due to heat exposure—more than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined! Extreme heat is defined as an outdoor temperature that hovers 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature and lasts for several weeks under a "dome" of high pressure. See the National Weather Service Heat Index for a color-coded chart depicting the likelihood of heat disorders with prolonged exposure or strenuous activity.

Heat poses severe risks for many workers, such as outdoor workers, workers in confined spaces, workers who are overweight, who have heart conditions, or who are on certain medications. The risks are so high for agricultural and other outdoor workers that some states have enacted mandatory heat stress rules for outdoor workers.

An article in Occupation Hazards on Beating the Heat suggests practical steps an employer can take:

  • Encourage workers to drink plenty of water—about a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty —and avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks that dehydrate the body.
  • Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first five to seven days of intense heat. This process needs to start all over again when a worker returns from vacation or absence from the job.
  • Encourage workers to wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Workers should change their clothes if they get completely saturated.
  • Use general ventilation and spot cooling at points of high heat production. Good airflow increases evaporation and cooling of the skin.
  • Train first-aid workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress and be sure all workers know who has been trained to detect early signs of heat-related illness. Permit workers to interrupt their work if they become extremely uncomfortable.
  • Consider a worker's physical condition when determining fitness to work in hot environments. Obesity, lack of conditioning, pregnancy and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat stress.
  • Alternate work and rest periods, with rest periods in a cooler area. Shorter, more frequent work-rest cycles are best. Schedule heavy work for cooler times of the day and use appropriate protective clothing.
  • Monitor temperatures, humidity and workers' responses to heat at least hourly.

Here are some additional resources for protecting employees from extreme heat:
OSHA Quick Card on Heat Stress - PDF - in English and Spanish
OSHA Fact Sheet: Working Outdoors in Warm Climates - PDF
OSHA Technical Manual on Heat Stress
CDC Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Extreme Heat

Risks at home
The Centers for Disease Control reports that young children and the elderly are most at risk for heat because they are less likely to sense and respond to significant changes in temperature. The CDC has devised guidelines to help us protect our elderly relatives and friends as summer temperatures rise - something you may want to circulate to employees:

  • Monitor Those at High Risk: If you know someone 65 or older, be sure to call them twice a day during heat waves. Be aware that heat induced illness can cause an older person to become confused or disoriented so engage in some discussion. Don't just ask them how they feel.
  • Be Sure that High Risk Individuals Have Adequate Cooling: Many elderly citizens rely on simple electric fans for relief; but fans only move rather than cool the air. If air-conditioning equipment is beyond one's budget, contact your local senior center which may be aware of cash grants or have equipment available on loan.
  • Assist with Meal Preparation: The use of stoves or hot ovens for cooking only adds to the ambient temperature during heat waves. You can greatly assist your elderly loved one by stocking their refrigerators with salads and cold plate items which will preclude the need for heavy cooking and may prove to be more appropriate and appetizing hot weather meals.
  • Become Familiar with Weather Related Terms: For example, the heat index is a temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that tells us how hot it really feels when the humidity is factored in. Thus, the heat index is more significant than the actual air temperature when the well being of those at risk is being considered.
  • Be Ready to Activate a Plan of Action: Be aware of the symptoms of a heat emergency, including an extremely high body temperature (above 103°, orally); red, hot skin with no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache, dizziness or nausea, and confusion. Don't hesitate to get the person to a medical facility immediately.

August 1, 2007

August health & wellness observances

National Cataract Awareness Month - cataracts are the leading cause of visual loss in Americans 65 and older. Nearly half of adults by age 80 will develop cataracts, or clouding of the lens. This month, learn how to recognize the symptoms, find treatment, and educate others on this common (but treatable) eye condition.

National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) - The goal of NIAM is to increase awareness about immunizations across the life span, from infants to the elderly. August is the perfect time to remind family, friends, co-workers, and those in the community to catch up on their vaccinations. Parents are enrolling their children in school, students are entering college, and health care workers are preparing for the upcoming flu season. This Centers for Disease Control site provides adult and childhood immunization schedules, along with more information and resources.

National Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Month - SMA is the leading genetic killer of children under the age of two. SMA is a group of inherited and often fatal diseases that destroys the nerves controlling voluntary muscle movement, which affects crawling, walking, head and neck control, and even swallowing. One in 40 people carry the gene that causes this disease. One-half of children diagnosed with the most severe form will not reach their second birthday. There is no cure for SMA, but new understanding of the disease has lead to breakthroughs in potential treatments.

July 6, 2007

July health & wellness observances

July is eye injury prevention month. Eye injuries occur at a rate of more than 2,000 per day, with half of those occurring on the job. Prevent Blindness offers fact sheets for home, sports, and the workplace, and OSHA offers information on eye protection. Also related to eye safety, July is UV Safety Month. Medem's medical library offers several articles on protecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays.

July is hemochromatosis awareness month. Hemochromatosis is a leading cause of iron overload disease. People with HHC absorb extra amounts of iron from the daily diet. The human body cannot rid itself of extra iron so, over time, these excesses build up in major organs such as the heart, liver, pancreas, joints and pituitary. If the extra iron is not removed, these organs can become diseased.

While not officially designated as such, we also nominate July as heat awareness month because extreme heat can pose serious health risks both at work and at home. Stay cool.

And speaking of staying cool, we would also like to note that July is national ice cream month. File this fact under "stress reduction."

May 25, 2007

Get ready for June: National Safety Month

The month of June has been named "National Safety Month" by the National Safety Council, which has been dedicating the month to safety-focused themes for the past decade. This year, the designated theme is "Celebrating Safe Communities."

"Workplace injuries are on the decline, but the number of unintentional injuries incurred off-the-job continues to rise. Since a person inhabits many different communities throughout the day—work, home and every stop in-between—the National Safety Council encourages businesses and individuals to take advantage of the safety education we provide, and reduce the risk of unintentional injury and death in everyday life."

NSC has broken the month into Weekly themes covering different aspects of safety

  • June 4-8: Workplace safety
  • June 11-15: Driving safety
  • June 18-22: Emergency Preparedness
  • June 25-29: Safety in the Home and Community

For each week, NSC has compiled an array of tools, including safety tips, posters, multimedia, and activities.

The Home Safety Council also commemorates the month, and provides tools and information for work and home. These include a HR Manager's Guide to Implementing a Hands on Home Safety Campaign. HSC states that its research shows that that home injuries can cost employers up to $38 billion in a single year.

Other wellness observances for June:
June 3: National Cancer Survivors Day
June 3-9: Sun Safety Week
June 11-17: National Men's Health Week
June 1 - July 4: Fireworks Safety Month

May 4, 2007

May wellness observances

Wellness programs not only improve worker health, a recent article in the North Carolina Medical Journal by productivity experts shows that wellness programs can have a positive effect on the bottom line, too. May is a busy month for health awareness observances - we've linked several resources to give your wellness communications for the month a jump start.

Arthritis Month - The Arthritis Foundation reminds us that walking can be a first step into better fitness and less pain from arthritis. Check out the available resources and find local activities.

Better Hearing and Speech Month - resources from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Healthy Vision Month - this is a national health observance that has a special emphasis on reducing visual impairment due to glaucoma. An estimated 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. An additional 2 million Americans have glaucoma and don't even know it. Tie in with Ultraviolet (UV) Awareness Month.

High Blood Pressure Education Month - this marks the kickoff for a yearlong awareness campaign focusing on "Adherence to Treatment." The site has an array of tools, including drop-in newsletter articles.

Melanoma - Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month - Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, and melanoma is the most serious of all skin cancer types. Although it only accounts for about 3% of skin cancer cases, it causes most skin cancer deaths. The University of Tennessee's Md Anderson Cancer Center has some excellent information and resources.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month - according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which has been sponsoring this month since 1983, "Adults need at least 30 minutes of activity 5 days each week. Children need at least 60 minutes of active play daily." Get some ideas for activities at this site. Tie in with Bike to Work days because May is also Bike Month or National Running & Fitness Week, the third week of the month.

Women's national Health Week - May 13, 2007, and will be celebrated until May 19, 2007. National Women's Check-up Day will be Monday, May 14, 2007.

Other important observances
Lyme Disease Awareness Month
Mental Health Month
North American Occupational Safety & Health Week - May 6 - May 12
Stroke Awareness Month
World No Tobacco Day - May 31

April 2, 2007

Health and wellness resources for April observances

Alcohol Awareness Month - sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence since 1987, encourages local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. It began as a way of reaching the American public with information about the disease of alcoholism - that it is a treatable disease, not a moral weakness, and that alcoholics are capable of recovery. Thursday April 5 is National Alcohol Screening Day

Autism Awareness Month - the Autism Society of America (ASA) and its network of nearly 200 local chapters across the nation are preparing to increase autism awareness throughout the month. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate, ASA estimates that the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.

Cancer Control Month - Better diagnostic tools and treatments mean that there are about 10 million cancer survivors in the U.S. But cancer is still the second leading cause of death, and some cancers, such as breast, prostate, lung, leukemia, and melanoma, continue to be too prevalent. Cancer Control Month seeks to increase public awareness and encourage people to take appropriate steps to protect themselves. The week of April 15-21 is Minority Cancer Awareness Week. This week of heightened awareness was founded because African Americans and other minorities have higher cancer incidence and deaths than white Americans. Many researchers attribute this difference to preventable factors such as less access to prevention and treatment, language and cultural barriers, and lack of insurance.

Child Abuse Prevention Month - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect offers a comprehensive prevention resource packet to support a wide range of service providers who work with parents, other caregivers, and their children with the common goal of promoting healthy families.

Infants Immunization Week - April 21-28, 2007 - an annual observance to promote the benefits of immunizations and to focus on the importance of immunizing infants against vaccine-preventable diseases by age two.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month - worldwide prevalence of IBS is estimated at 9% to 23%. Because many people remain undiagnosed and unaware that their symptoms indicate a medically recognized disorder, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) devotes the month to health messages about IBS diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life issues.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month - each April the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) coordinates national activities to raise awareness about and prevent sexual violence against women. NSVRC offers a toolkit, resources, and links to statewide activities and resources.

Other April observances

  • Counseling Awareness Month
  • Donate Life Month
  • Occupational Therapy Month
  • STD Awareness Month
  • Women's Eye Health and Safety Month
  • Youth Sports Safety Month

March 28, 2007

Public lives, private dramas - cancer in the headlines

We have two very public stories playing out in national headlines that deal with public figures coping with cancer. The news that Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer had spread was piggybacked by news that Tony Snow's colon cancer had also returned and spread. Both are terribly sad stories - both Edwards and Snow are parents in the prime of their lives and both are people who live lives in the glare of public scrutiny.

There are several life lessons to be learned, not the least of which is the value of early cancer detection and the importance of cancer screenings. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to reminding us that colorectal cancer is thought to be 90% preventable and one of the most treatable forms of cancer if detected early. And while breast cancer screenings are not as fail safe, the importance of early detection and preventive measures cannot be disputed. The personal health dramas of both Edwards and Snow will be catalysts for thousands to call their doctors for screenings. Often, public figures who share their experience can cut through our all-too-human tendencies to denial and procrastination and can also offer inspiration and hope to those who cope with their own or a loved one's cancer.

Work-life balance
These stories also have brought the issue of work/life balance center stage as we watch the very different approaches that people and families take in addressing a major health crisis. When Elizabeth and John Edwards announced the return of her cancer along with their decision for John Edwards to continue in his quest for the presidency, it spawned a national debate that is spilling out in newsprint, talk shows and online message boards. Their choice has met with both accolades and criticism, and while much of the commentary may be colored by political partisanship, it highlights the very different approaches that people take to a life-threatening health crisis. Some would retreat to spend time with family and focus exclusively on health; some would focus on fulfilling lifelong dreams; some would quietly continue putting one foot in front of the other, living life with as much normalcy as possible.

One of the matters that is put in high relief in the case of Elizabeth and John Edwards is the concept of the value of work and a purpose-driven life. Obviously, both the Edwards have a passion for their mission and their life's work. Elizabeth's choice is viewed by many other cancer survivors as life-affirming. Regardless, people and families must decide their own best approach. It is never wise to let the court of public opinion be a determinant of how we should live our lives.

Quiet dramas
In the workplace, quieter but no less compelling dramas are playing out every day as workers cope with their own cancer or life-threatening cancer suffered by loved ones. For many people, the high cost of health care dictates response simply because the job is the key to paying for care. For most, life goes on. As managers and colleagues, the most important thing we can do is offer a constructive support that is based less in sympathy and more in respect and regard for the person's inherent dignity. The American Cancer Society offers these basic do's and don'ts for dealing with a coworker who has cancer:


  • Take your cues from the person with cancer. Some people are very private while others will talk more about their illness. Respect the person's need to share or their need to remain quiet.
  • Let them know that you care.
  • Respect their decisions about how their cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.
  • Include the person in usual work projects and social events. Let him or her be the one to tell you if the commitment is too much to manage.
  • Listen without always feeling that you have to respond. Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most.
  • Expect your colleague to have good days and bad days, emotionally and physically.
  • Keep your relationship as normal and balanced as possible. While greater patience and compassion are called for during times like these, your colleague should continue to respect your feelings, as you respect his or her feelings.
  • Offer to help in concrete, specific ways.
  • Check before doing something for them, no matter how helpful you think you are being.
  • Keep them up-to-date with what's happening at work.
  • Send cards, and include anecdotes about why he or she is missed. If interested people send individual cards, they may have more impact.


  • Offer unsolicited advice, or be judgmental.
  • Assume that he or she can't do the job. Your co-worker needs to feel like a valuable, contributing member of your company or department.
  • Feel you must put up with serious displays of temper or mood swings. You shouldn't accept disruptive behavior just because someone is ill.
  • Take things too personally. It's normal for your co-worker to be quieter than usual, to need time alone, and to be angry at times. These feelings are normal, so don't worry.
  • Be afraid to talk about the illness.
  • Always feel you have to talk about cancer. Your colleague may enjoy conversations that don't involve the illness.
  • Be afraid to hug or touch your friend if that was a part of your friendship before the illness.
  • Be patronizing. Try not to use a "How sick are you today?" tone when asking how the person is doing.
  • Tell your co-worker, "I can imagine how you must feel," because you really can't.

March 13, 2007

Health and Wellness Observances in March

March is a busy month for health observances. The following are a few of the major observances this month, with links for more information and online resources.

March 26 - - The American Diabetes Alert - an annual, one-day call-to-action held on the fourth Tuesday of March for people to find out if they are at risk for diabetes. Take the risk test.

National Nutrition Month - a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - Every March, 58 organizations focused on colorectal cancer join forces to bring attention to this disease. More resources from ACS.

Save Your Vision Month - the American Optometric Association reminds Americans about the importance of regular eye examinations for maintaining healthy vision and overall good health. The American Eye-Q survey offers a test of knowledge on eye and vision topics. The campaign also concentrates on the eye and vision health of the Baby Boomer generation, many of whom will turn 60 in 2007.

National Kidney Month - the National Kidney Foundation offers resources, tips, and quizzes to help promote awareness of and reduce risk for chronic kidney disease.

More March observances
Hemophilia Month
Multiple Sclerosis Education & Awareness Month
Mental Retardation Awareness Month
National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month

March 8, 2007

Wellness and work environments: when gyms and offices collide

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) has been much in the news lately and with an aging and increasingly obese population, it's hardly surprising to learn that risks go well beyond air travel. Sedentary workers can also be at great risk - particularly those workers who spend much of the day at the computer. While DVT can strike at any age, some people have higher risk factors than others.

Many office workers are fighting back against the sedentary lifestyle and some workplaces are starting to look more like gyms than cubicle farms. Many workers are trading in their office chairs for exercise balls and many employers - including Google and BMW - are accommodating them. Sitting on an exercise ball takes a bit of getting used to requiring better balance, but proponents find them energizing and tout the benefits of "active sitting." Ergonomists and physicians suggest they are better for shorter periods of time rather than prolonged use, and are quick to point out that they are not an ergonomic solution to mitigate musculoskeletal disorders. There are several variations, some that offer partial back support.

Many workers find the prospect of a sedentary life less than satisfying, looking for alternatives to traditional seating arrangements. Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, and Donald Rumsfeld are a few of the notable proponents of standing desks. Recently, some people have been taking this concept a step further with the treadmill desk or the so-called "treadputer". Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic is a champion of the "Walking While Working" concept, seeing this as as a potential antidote for the obesity epidemic.

Maybe your workplace isn't ready for a complete transformation yet, but there may be some small adaptations that could energize your work force and keep them moving. Exercise balls might be a great alternative in meeting rooms to keep meetings short and dynamic. A few standing stations interspersed here and there might offer people an opportunity to get up and move while staying focused on a project. Whatever the seating or standing arrangement, the computer work station should be optimized for safety. OSHA offers an illustrated Computer workstation e-tool that offers guidelines and a checklist to ensure best ergonomic practices.

February 22, 2007

Chronic Pain in the Workplace

I shoveled quite a bit of snow this past week and my back is sore, my arms hurt and I feel like a real whiner, running to the medicine cabinet for another dose of aspirin. Just sitting at my desk hurts and I can't concentrate. Through this experience, I thought; how many people struggle at work each day with pain much worse and more chronic than mine? How do people balance taking pain medication with staying focused and productive? How do they keep going each day?

According to the National Pain Foundation, persistent pain is a quite prevalent in this country. More than 50 million people living in the United States suffer from chronic pain. Two thirds of pain sufferers have been living with their pain for more than five years and experience pain almost six days a week.

An organization called Pain at Work describes The Impact of Chronic Pain on the Individual this way:

  • Inadequately managed pain can produce anxiety, fear, depression, or cognitive dysfunction.
  • Chronic pain can increase disabilities of other disorders including depression and anxiety, and is a risk factor for suicide in depressed patients.
  • Chronic pain interferes with sleep and adversely affects the quality of life for people dealing with pain—both in terms of their day-to-day activities and their emotional well-being.

Results released this week from a 2006 national survey conducted by Harris Interactive(R) on "Pain in the Workplace" found that relentless, chronic pain has risen dramatically among full-time U.S. workers in the past 10 years.

  • In 2006, nearly 9 in 10 employees living with chronic pain (89%) reported that they typically go to work rather than stay at home, when experiencing pain.
  • Nearly half of employees living with chronic pain (46%) said their pain affected their ability to perform their job.

This sets up huge potential for presenteeism, employee mistakes and safety issues and concerns and possibly abuse of prescription drugs on the job. But most employers don't know about the employee's pain until it is quite severe. Employees fear discrimination or loss of a job if it's perceived that they are compromised by pain and many cut back on medication to be able to appear "normal". Unfortunately this leads to mismanagement of the pain and could exacerbate the problem and the associated emotional problems of anxiety and depression.

Company sponsored wellness programs and efforts by organizations to provide employees with healthy living resources are a good way to address this hidden problem but in 2006, only 22% of wellness programs included a component about preventing or living with chronic pain conditions.

In the next few weeks, I'll explore this topic in more depth, share some tips for the HR Manager and the supervisor as well as for the individual employee.

February 12, 2007

Turn the lights up…effective treatment for SAD

Ten days ago, we were all heartened that when the groundhog tumbled out of his cozy den and looked to the sky, no shadow scared him back into his hole, saving us from six more weeks of winter. However, here in the northeast, the legend doesn't always live up to the reality, and many of us feel just like that groundhog from October to April.

In early January, I wrote about SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and as the constant cold and snow seem to block our sun daily, I wanted to revisit the problem and offer solutions. A simple effective treatment that can be used in the workplace is Light Therapy. While many workplaces have become a cubicle landscape where direct day light is almost non-existent, high intensity lamps aimed at the employee will chase away the winter blues.

Light therapy has been proven effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Exposure, for up to four hours per day (average 1-2 hours) to very bright light, at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting is the therapeutic dose. Ordinary light bulbs and fittings are not strong enough. Average domestic or office lighting emits an intensity of 200-500 lux but the minimum dose, necessary to treat SAD is 2500 lux, the intensity of a bright summer day can be 100,000 lux! Even changing a workplace setting to full spectrum lighting won’t do the trick.

Light boxes and lamps are easily available through the internet and with a prescription from a physician, an employee’s health insurance may cover the cost. A reasonable priced box with therapeutic levels of light would cost about $280. That’s a small price to pay for a happy and productive employee.

Light treatment should be used daily in winter (and dull periods in summer) starting in early autumn when the first symptoms appear. It consists of sitting two to three feet away from a specially designed light box, usually on a table, allowing the light to shine directly through the eyes. The employee can carry out normal activity such as reading, writing, eating and working at a computer while stationary in front of the box. It is not necessary to stare at the light although it has been proved safe.

Treatment is usually effective within three or four days and the effect continues provided it is used every day. Tinted lenses, or any device that blocks the light to the retina of the eye, should not be worn. Some light boxes emit higher intensity of light, up to 10,000 lux, which can cut treatment time down to half an hour a day.
Also daily exposure to as much natural daylight as possible, especially at midday may help. Encouraging employees to bundle up and get outside can be a great stress reliever, team builder and blues chaser.

February 6, 2007

Meet your work force: fatter, sicker, and less productive

Yesterday, PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute released a report that paints a bleak picture of an increasingly sedentary global work force and a rising tide of chronic diseases that are taking a toll on corporate productivity and profits. The good news is that business leaders appear to be among those in the vanguard in combating the growing and costly threat of chronic disease, which is debilitating workers and sapping productivity. The report notes that the world now has more people who are overweight than hungry and that poor diet, lack of physical activity, stress, and smoking are the biggest contributing factors to chronic disease. The U.S. has the dubious distinction of winning the global fatness award, with more than half of all adults overweight or obese.

The PwC report documents some of the business costs of chronic disease, and suggests that wellness programs are increasingly favored as a strategy to mitigate risk:

" ... PwC examines the challenges facing businesses as a consequence of the growing epidemic of chronic disease, and found that approximately 2 percent of capital spent on workforce is lost to disability, absenteeism and presenteeism (in other words, diminished productivity from ill employees who go to work but work below par) due to chronic disease. Combined, these indirect costs are more than the additional direct medical claim costs that some employers incur. In contrast, corporate wellness programs have been shown to provide a 3-to-1 return on investment.
"There are quantifiable benefits from using wellness programs to attract and retain talented, healthy employees," said Simon Leary, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the UK firm of PwC and Health Research Institute Leader for United Kingdom/Europe. "You can improve the health and well-being of your workers while also bolstering your bottom line. The economic case for prevention is overwhelming."
Download a free copy of the full report, Working Towards Wellness: Accelerating the prevention of chronic disease. Free registration is required.

For more resources on preventing chronic disease, you may want to familiarize yourself with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. NACDD is a public health association comprised of chronic disease program directors of each state and U.S. territory. It was founded in 1988 to provide a national forum for chronic disease prevention, with the intent of mobilizing national efforts to reduce chronic diseases and the associated risk factors. Some of the specific conditions that the organization targets include arthritis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, health disparities, healthy aging, osteoporosis and obesity.

In addition to offering a variety of newsletters, reports, and case histories of success stories, the site provides an invaluable directory of Chronic Disease Resources - a great page for HR directors to bookmark - we've added it to growing list of links in the sidebar.

February 1, 2007

Wellness topics and observances for February

It’s a busy month for observance of health and wellness events, but with open enrollment and benefit fairs out of the way and budget preparation hopefully a few weeks ahead, HR managers may have time in February to promote these critical health concerns. Check below for links and available contacts. Remember, any event sponsored by your organization and engaged in collectively by your employees has a great chance to change behavior in a positive direction.

Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month
Materials available
Contact: PBA Consumer and Patient Hotline

American Heart Month
American Heart Association
Materials available
Contact: Program departments or local chapters

National Children’s Dental Health Month
American Dental Association
Materials available
Contact: Department of Public Information

National Wise Health Consumer Month
American Institute for Preventive Medicine
Contact: Sue Jackson

Feb 11-17
Children of Alcoholics Week
National Association for Children of Alcoholics
Materials available
Contact: Gail Jordan

Feb 14
National Donor Day
Materials available
Contact: Division of Transplantation Staff

Feb 25 - March 3
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
National Eating Disorders Association
Materials available
Contact: Tonia Brown

January 2, 2007

Snow, ice and the winter blues…Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace

Feeling exhausted and cooped up? Afraid that one more dark and dreary weekend will cause you a complete melt down? As the calendar confirms, we are a long way from spring flowers. It would seem normal to be a bit depressed. Yet many of us feel this way every year as the days get shorter and the light fades. This cyclical depression, called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) probably affects many of your employees, causing lower productivity and missed days of work.

SAD affects an estimated half million people every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January, February and March. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. For many people, SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering. Physicians call this sub-syndromal SAD or 'winter blues.' And some experts think this is quite common, especially in the northern, colder part of the country.

What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of SAD may vary in severity but usually recur regularly each winter. They include:

Sleep problems: Usually desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake but, in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening

Lethargy: Fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine

Overeating: Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain

Depression: Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings

Social problems: Irritability and desire to avoid social contact

Anxiety: Tension and inability to tolerate stress

Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sex and physical contact

Mood changes: In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (over activity) in spring and autumn.

For a more detailed description of the disorder and it’s prevalence check out the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness

What can a supervisor do?
As a supervisor or HR Manager, you cannot diagnose depression. You can, however, note changes in work performance and listen to employee concerns. Contact your EAP and ask for suggestions on how best to approach an employee who you suspect is experiencing work problems that may be related to depression.

When a previously productive employee begins to be absent or tardy frequently, or is unusually forgetful and error-prone, he/she may be experiencing a significant health problem. Discuss changes in work performance with the employee. You may suggest that the employee seek consultation if there are personal concerns. Confidentiality of any discussion with the employee is critical. If an employee voluntarily talks with you about health problems, including feeling depressed or down all the time, keep these points in mind:

  • Do not try to diagnose the problem yourself.
  • Recommend that any employee experiencing symptoms of depression seek professional consultation from an EAP counselor or other health or mental health professional.
  • Recognize that a depressed employee may need a flexible work schedule during treatment.
  • Find out about your company's policy by contacting your human resources specialist.
  • Remember that severe depression may be life threatening to the employee, but rarely to others. If an employee makes comments like "life is not worth living" or "people would be better off without me,'' take the threats seriously. Immediately call for local emergency assistance.
Treatment for SAD is varied and quite effective. Check out the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association for details and as a resource for your employees. Now if you are done reading this…take a break and go outside for a few minutes, see if you can find the sun

December 27, 2006

Wishing you a healthy New Year…wellness resources for January

Have you made your resolutions yet? Are you committed to starting over, making healthier choices and exercising every day? Making all these changes on our own can be daunting, but with the support of the workplace and colleagues who are also trying to change, chances of success are greater. Creating an environment where employees are encouraged to improve their health pays off for both the worker and the company. Research shows that if an individual makes a behavior change and then goes back to an environment that supports that healthy change, close to 80 percent will maintain the change over a two-year period

January is a great month to endorse wellness for your employees. Workplace events can go a long way at promoting a healthy lifestyle and creating a supportive environment.
This New Year begins with a variety of national health observances and I’ve listed some resources where you can access free materials for workplace events. So get busy, send helpful links to your employees, stuff paychecks with health screening reminders or get serious and begin an all out health initiative.

Health and Wellness Topics for January:

National Volunteer Blood Donor Month

Healthy Weight Week

Cervical Health Awareness Month

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

December 1, 2006

Study links work stress and burnout to an increase in type 2 diabetes

Job stress might be right up their with weight, smoking and lack of exercise as a high risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. Researchers from Tel Aviv University's medical school tracked 677 working adults over three to five years. Roughly half of this group reported high stress on the job, and the high-stress group was 1.8 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, even when factoring in age, sex and obesity.

According to Samuel Melamed, one of the researchers, a workers ability to cope with job stress is also a significant factor.

"It is possible that these people are prone to diabetes because they can't handle stress very well," Melamed said. "Their coping resources may have been depleted not only due to job stress but also life stresses, such as stressful life events and daily hassles."
Stress can disrupt the body's ability to process glucose, especially in people whose genetics make them vulnerable, said Richard Surwit, chief of the Division of Medical Psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

This provides yet another indicator of the importance of Work/life balance and the preventive benefits of wellness and stress reduction programs in the workplace.

Diabetes: An epidemic in the making
Many health practitioners are alarmed at the spike in the prevalence of diabetes and see it as an emerging epidemic. According to a New York Times in depth-series on diabetes earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control puts the numbers of diabetics at 21 million, with twice that number as "pre-diabetic" meaning they are on a path to developing type 2 diabetes unless they take lifestyle and health steps to mitigate their risk.

Employers need to care about this. A 2004 study by UnumProvident found that the number of workers filing disability claims for Type 2 diabetes doubled between 2001 and 2003 (PDF). The costs to employers? As much as $33,495 per diabetic claimant, as well as increased disability duration.

The UnumProvident study offered the following recommendations for employers, all the more relevant in light of the recent Israeli research:

Employers can play an important role in helping diabetic employees through a number of intervention strategies:

  • worksite health promotion/disease prevention programs that focus on fitness, weight loss and diet, as well as diabetes self-management education (DSME) for employees who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides access to community resources for DSME
  • healthcare plans that incorporate disease management and case management for type 2 diabetes to help ensure high quality healthcare outcomes

November 2, 2006

Help for your out-of-shape workers may be cheaper than you think

Is there any correlation between skyrocketing health-care costs and the nation's expanding beltline? Many would say yes. Obesity is becoming a national health crisis, and the effects definitely spill over into the workplace. The costs to businesses are astronomical. According to an article in Knowledge @ Wharton Efforts Are Growing to Trim the Fat from Employees -- and Employers' Health Care Costs:

“Obesity and overweight conditions contribute as much as $93 billion to the nation's yearly medical bill, according to studies reviewed by the National Business Group on Health, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that represents large companies. Of that amount, the total cost of obesity to U.S. companies is estimated at more than $13 billion per year -- a price tag that includes $8 billion for added health insurance costs, $2.4 billion for paid sick leave, $1.8 billion for life insurance and $1 billion for disability insurance. According to recent studies on the economic cost of workplace obesity, that translates into 39 million lost work days, 239 million days where work activity is restricted, 90 million sick days or days in bed and 63 million visits to physicians.”

The article goes on to discuss some steps employers are taking to fight obesity in the work force, ranging from mild to aggressive intervention programs. It can be a delicate matter – many employers we encounter are a little reluctant to encroach on “lifestyle” areas that may involve personal choice. But what we don’t understand is why more employers don’t take the first steps to a healthier work force by taking advantage of fitness and wellness programs offered by benefits companies, many of them free.

Here are a few of the reasons we hear:

  • We have had staff reductions so we can’t afford to let our employees go to a gym during the day.
  • We don’t have a budget for it.
  • We let our employees know about these benefits but they don’t use them.
There are more excuses, but you get the point. But the long-term benefits of a healthier staff more than outweigh (heh) the cost. Healthier employees:
  • Have more energy and can accomplish more in a day.
  • Take fewer sick days
  • Lower insurance costs
  • Have healthier attitudes and improve moral
Here are some tips for promoting a successful wellness program:
  • Lead by example: get involved in a fitness program yourself and talk it up.
  • Promote, promote, promote: the more information you put in front of your employees, the more likely you will get buy in.
  • Make it fun: Some companies use contests and incentives.
  • Take advantage of all the free stuff: Check your health insurer and EAP to see what they what programs they offer, along with any incentives and promotional information.
This has to start at the top. As with just about any other initiative, if the president of the company doesn't make it a priority, it's not likely to succeed.

October 25, 2006

Follow the laws with Employee Health Initiatives

It’s October and most companies are deep into the Wellness Fair season and while it’s great to promote healthy lifestyles for our employees, there are some cautions and pitfalls we need to be aware of.

A recent white paper published in HR Business Legal Reports warns that Corporate Wellness Programs can contradict State and Federal Labor Laws related to discrimination. An illustration from this paper states

wellness programs must be carefully crafted. For example, a wellness program that offers financial incentives to employees who walk a certain number of miles per week may discriminate against employees whose disabilities preclude them from reaching the target number. When developing a program, therefore, employers must be aware of the legal requirements that may impact their decisions. Offering a reasonable alternative that allows a disabled worker to earn the financial incentive may satisfy certain legal requirements - but crafting such alternatives may be challenging. Employers should have their legal counsel review a wellness program before it's presented to employees.

HR managers need to consider The ADA-American with Disabilities Act in the implementation of wellness initiatives. Reasonable alternatives and accommodations must be available to employees with an identified disability. Also according to the ADA, companies cannot ask employees for their personal health information. So requiring statistics on weight and blood pressure as a way to measure progress in a health promotion would be a violation. Offering a voluntary program for employees, where participants keep track of health stats would be just fine as long as there was no penalty for those who didn’t participate.

According to the same white paper, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Internal Revenue Service jointly issued a proposed regulation describing four requirements for a "bona fide wellness program" that would comply with HIPAA:

The rewards that are offered to an individual must be limited (the departments suggest a limit of 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage).

The program must be reasonably designed to promote good health or prevent disease for the individuals in the program, and must give eligible individuals the opportunity to qualify for the reward at least once per year.

The reward must be available to all similarly situated individuals, and a reasonable alternative standard must be made available for any individual for whom, due to a health factor, it would be unreasonably difficult to meet the initial standard (or for whom it is medically inadvisable to attempt to satisfy that standard).

All plan materials that describe the terms of the wellness program must disclose the availability of a reasonable alternative standard.

Union contracts also need to be considered as they may restrict management’s influence on behavior outside of the identified work duties of an employee. Likewise State laws may prohibit an employer from influencing behavior of an employee who is off duty.

It is clearly advisable to review the recommendations as stated by the Department of Labor, http://www.dol.gov/ cautiously analyze any initiatives for disparate impact on any group of employees and seek legal counsel if you are uncertain that your programs are fair and within the law.

October 6, 2006

Time for a nap? The sleep deprived American workforce

Ok, so who’s to blame for these statistics recently reported by USA Today?

American workers are hungry for sleep. A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, a Washington D.C., nonprofit that focuses on sleep and public health, found that 26 percent of adults get a good night's sleep only a few nights a month or less. Another 24 percent say they get a good night's sleep only a few nights a week.

In other words, the sleep-deprived are cranky, in a workplace full of other cranky people. Their ability to concentrate, remember and make decisions decreases significantly and the estimated cost to U.S. businesses ranges from $30 billion to $100 billion a year.

Perhaps the most disturbing outcome is when a sleep deprived employee makes an error that causes accidents and death. Forty nine- people died on board Comair Flight 5191 as it ran out of runway for its dawn takeoff from the Lexington Blue Grass Airport on August 26th. While government investigators have not officially attributed the crash to any cause, they have said the air traffic controller on overnight duty then was working with only two hours of sleep.

Is this a problem with society that promotes a 24/7 never-ending culture of work and productivity? Is this the result or competition and pressure to perform in a global market? Is this the fault of the overextended individual not knowing how to say no? Or is this a lack of basic understanding that the body must sleep to rejuvenate?

When I go into companies to provide presentations of stress, I often ask participants “how many hours of sleep do you get?’ The average answer is less than 6 hours with individuals actively deciding to forego sleep to wash clothes, clean the house, fix household problems, or catch up on work.

“If I don’t, I will be so far behind, I will never catch up” And perhaps that is the scourge of society in 2006. Our lives are over scheduled and time to relax is scarce. It’s no wonder that the sales of prescription sleep medication is skyrocketing as people who are overstressed find it impossible to calm down enough to fall asleep.

Some workplaces are addressing the problem by educating employees about the physical and cognitive need for sleep, but that does little if management piles on unrealistic expectations that require 60 hour work-weeks. A company that was enforcing indefinite mandatory overtime requiring employees to put in 57 hours of work each week recently asked that I come in to conduct a two-hour presentation on managing stress. I told the manager to forget having me in and give the employees two hours to take a nap. No amount of training on stress will fix an unmanageable work schedule.

Another workplace, described in the USA Today article, tried a different approach as

At 10e20, a New York-based global search marketing and Web solutions company, President Chris Winfield makes sure employees are supplied with free Starbucks coffee and Red Bull energy drinks. "It's coffee in the morning and Red Bull in the afternoon," he says. "We have a lot of legs shaking, but the work gets done." He says the combination is effective: "We don't have many missed deadlines."
This may help deadlines but it does little as workers go home and try to sleep at night pumped up on caffeine. Sleep deprivation not only results in an immediate decrease of productivity but can also advance long-term illness.

Management needs to see the bigger picture on this issue. We must creatively solve the need for 24 hour response in the global economy without burning out the workforce.

Here are some thoughts to consider in promoting wellbeing of the worker.

Staff to adequate levels to get the job done
Question double and extended shifts and mandatory overtime and look for alternative ways to handle demanding projects
Encourage the 8 hour day, lunch hours and breaks

Short term gains in productivity from working with inadequate staff seldom produces long term sustainable results.

September 21, 2006

The high cost of feeling blue

Can you imagine US business ignoring a problem that annually costs them $105 Billion a year? Well that’s just what they do when they overlook mental illness as a serious workplace liability and threat to profitability.

Over the past several years the EEOC has litigated increasing numbers of claims under the ADA-American with Disabilities Act, from individuals asking for reasonable accommodations for mental illness and cases are being found in favor of the claimant who is asking for things such as flexible work schedules and a change in work hours. As awareness is raised about this category of illness, requests and claims will increase.

Whether it is because of antiquated stigma or because a company wants to stay out of employees “personal business”, too many organizations are putting their head in the sand about this one. And that is a serious mistake.
Unfortunately just as these issues are coming to light and treatments are proving effective, many Health Insurers are cutting back on mental health benefits. Lower cost plan options may totally eliminate or seriously limit access and care for mental illness. That said depression is one of the most treatable diseases with a recovery rate of nearly 85% when the individual is diagnosed and referred to the appropriate professional.
More companies are openly addressing this issue as reported in USA Today

A number of employers are enhancing mental health coverage or programs. The number of firms with employee-assistance programs, which often provide on-call counselors and referrals, has climbed from 68% in 2001 to 71% this year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Seven in 10 offer mental health insurance. Eighteen percent have grief-recovery programs, up from 12% in 2002.
General Motors' program provides U.S. employees with unlimited access to telephone counseling with a trained mental health professional and up to three face-to-face counseling sessions at no charge. GM also helps managers with what to do if an employee has personal issues.

Wellness efforts abound this time of year as organizations promote healthy eating and offer screening for everything from high blood pressure and cholesterol to osteoporosis in the ubiquitous benefits fairs. But when was the last time you saw a company offer depression screening or promotions for improving mental health?
It is time to come out of the closet and recognize the great value of promoting wellness on all levels, physical and emotional. Look to the industry leaders and match their efforts as you plan your benefit package this year.

September 14, 2006

Free Resources for Wellness Programs

It’s pretty common to see September as a month to gear up for a "new year." Many HR managers are looking to assemble a Wellness Program and use upcoming Benefit Fairs to launch a health initiative in the workplace. Begin by checking with your EAP to see how they can help support and supplement your wellness efforts. Additionally, the web offers a wealth of free resources and the best way to start is by knowing the monthly observances. I’ve listed the next three months here and will update the list each quarter. Also our Blog will post entries on several of these issues as the year goes on. But you can start building resources now by accessing the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports . It’s a site with links to national organizations offering low cost or free resources to help your business promote healthy lifestyles. I’ve also listed many links here so you can start this project today…then put your feet up and take a “Stress Down Day” for yourself.

Health and Wellness Topics

National Sickle Cell Month
National Menopause Awareness Month
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
Cold and Flu Campaign
5-a-Day Better Health Week

National Coming Out Day
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
National Depression Screening Day
National Disability Awareness Month
National AIDS Awareness month
National Children’s Health Month

EAP Awareness Month
National Diabetes Month
Great American Smoke Out http
Flu & Pneumonia Campaign

World AIDS Day
Stress Down Day

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