heart and handsComprehensive workplace wellness programs have the potential to significantly improve the overall health of the American workforce, according to an advisory released Monday by the American Heart Association.

Although the majority of employers – 77 percent according to a 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Educational Trust Employer Health Benefits Survey—say they offer wellness programs, many aren’t comprehensive and don’t effectively track or evaluate employee cardiovascular health, according to the advisory.

A comprehensive workplace wellness program includes: health education; exercise areas; a supportive environment; integration into other organizational initiatives; employee health and safety programs; and wellness screenings. The AHA’s advisory recommends specific areas of focus for workplace recognition, said AHA president Elliott Antman M.D.

“This workplace wellness recognition advisory proposed the standards by which we ultimately hope to improve the lives and health of the 155 million Americans employed in our country today,” said Antman, a senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate dean for clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Using standard criteria like the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 to measure employee health and providing a score of each employee’s health would also strengthen workplace wellness recognition programs, according to the advisory.

Life’s Simple 7 is a list of health behaviors and factors that determine the risk of heart disease and stroke. Behaviors include not smoking, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. The factors to monitor are blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. The AHA’s online tool My Life Check uses these to determine a person’s overall cardiovascular health score out of ten.

“Our recommendations provide a blueprint for employers to accurately track the heart health of their employees and provide clear, evidence-based solutions to improve cardiovascular health,” said advisory chair Gregg C. Fonarow, M.D., in a news release. He is the Eliot Corday Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Science at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Catherine Baase, M.D., chief medical officer for The Dow Chemical Company, said she supports AHA’s science-based standards and outlined Dow’s successful workplace wellness initiatives.

“There needs to be a clear business case and link to corporate priorities. There must be a comprehensive and sustained strategy which is implemented well with effective metrics,” said Baase, who oversees the corporation’s health initiatives. “To be most effective it requires collaboration with many partners inside the organization such as safety, human resources, facilities leadership, public affairs and government affairs as well as community partners.”

At Dow, 90 percent of the company’s 53,000 employees worldwide participate in the company’s health initiatives.

Baase has also been appointed by Dow’s CEO, Andrew Liveris, to help with his work on the AHA’s CEO Roundtable, a group CEOs from more than 20 companies that advise and collaborate with the AHA on workplace health initiatives. The executives are working to improve health for their more than 7 million employees and their family members to improve health through behavior change.

The advisory was published in the AHA journal Circulation. A panel of experts developed the recommendations after reviewing research of workplace wellness programs and six major “workplace culture of health” recognition programs.

“The AHA is committed to improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans,” Antman said. “We are meeting people where they live, work, play and pray to share our message.”

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