The prevalence of chronic disease continues to grow in staggering numbers across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of 2012, about half of all adults (or 117 million people) have one or more chronic health conditions and 25 percent have two or more chronic health conditions. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently noted that 48 percent of all health care spending in 2006 was for the 50 percent of the population who have one or more chronic medical conditions. Similarly, the American Heart Association estimates the total cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity.
We are at a turning point in this country. The health of our Nation depends on companies stepping up to the plate and taking employee health and well-being seriously, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it can have a significant impact on the overall performance of the organization. In addition to the obvious – healthier, happier employees – organizations can save millions on health care and disability costs, increase workforce productivity, reduce employee absenteeism and decrease rates of illness and injuries. Furthermore, corporate-sponsored health and wellness programs are an essential element to competitive employee compensation and benefit packages which attract and retain the best talent.
With an eye on addressing the current achievement gap in employer wellness programs, Sodexo and the YMCA of Central Florida have formed a unique partnership resulting in a new evidenced-based approach to health and well-being that focuses on expanding the value, availability, access and effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. Central Florida is hosting a groundbreaking 3-year pilot program, entitled Communities for Health, aimed at combating preventable chronic illnesses that escalate healthcare expenditures, which accounts for 18 percent of the GDP and is projected to rise sharply. The initiative will establish a coordinated support system that delivers solutions tailored to individual needs to help families live healthier, happier and more productive lives. Communities for Health will enhance traditional, and mostly underutilized, employee wellness programs through a comprehensive, system-based approach that engages employees at work and at home, increasing the likelihood of success and yielding a more significant impact than traditional workplace wellness initiatives.
As one of the largest employers in the world, including 130,000 employees across 9,000 sites in North America, Sodexo has a nearly unparalleled capacity to demonstrate the effectiveness of wellness programs in a broad range of communities and circumstances; and made possible in partnership with the YMCA, with its 2,700 Y’s across the country. By taking a systems-based approach to employee health management that leverages community-based organizations (including both the public and private sector), employers, healthcare providers and family/community we can improve engagement in and compliance to evidence-based prevention and chronic disease management programs.
Participation in Communities for Health begins at work with trained wellness champions encouraging their peers to enroll into the program via a consumer-friendly program website. An employee opts-in to receive customized text messages, starting with an invitation to schedule a diagnostic screening test to better understand their personal health status. Based on the results, participants are immediately connected to a lifestyle manager who recommends an appropriate program and serves as their health coach throughout the duration of the program. Once their personal health plans are in place, a series of personal and text communications will be provided to support individual health goals and long term behavior change. As part of the program support, employees will be directed to the most convenient neighborhood YMCA to access evidence-based chronic disease prevention programs, fitness and healthy eating wellness classes and activities. In addition, employees will receive reward cards which can be used at thousands of healthy restaurants and retailers as part of the incentive program designed by Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services.
Our collaborative approach is intended to address the challenges facing employers, providers, insurers and individuals, but also to leverage the collective assets of these sectors to drive employee and family engagement. Using the power of peer to peer engagement, the strength of evidence-based programs, the impact of behavioral modification in lifestyle management, and the influence of friends, family and other community-based support; we are positioning ourselves to tackle the barriers that plague most wellness programs.
Nebeyou Abebe is Senior Director, Health & Well-Being in Sodexo North America’s Office of Sustainability & Corporate Social Responsibility. Sodexo is the world’s largest quality of life services company and is among the most admired company in its sector, according to Fortune’s 2014 corporate reputation survey.