Wellness program reduces risk of heart disease among employees

Joint initiative could save DaimlerChrysler millions of dollars

A workplace health program at DaimlerChrysler's Windsor assembly plant substantially improved employee health and has the potential to save the company millions of dollars in health-care costs, according to an actuarial analysis by Aon Consulting.

The year-long joint initiative between pharmaceutical company Pfizer Canada, DaimlerChrysler Canada, the Canadian Auto Workers and the Windsor and Essex county health unit reduced participants' 10-year cardiovascular risk from an average level of moderate to low.

Cardiovascular disease kills more than one-third of Canadians. It is the third leading cause of long-term disability and costs employers about $3.2 billion annually.

Aon's analysis of the the program found that if implemented nationally, the program could save the company more than $2 million in short and long-term disability, casual absenteeism, prescription drug costs and group life insurance over 10 years.

"It's really encouraging to see organizations like DaimlerChrysler and Pfizer taking steps to help employees stay healthy and active on the job," said Ontario Minister of Health Promotion Jim Watson. "Corporations that invest in the health and well-being of their employees know the benefits of promoting workplace wellness.

The program was launched in 2003 when employees were given the chance to be assessed and receive a report highlighting their risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years.

Then more than 310 employees volunteered for a year-long followup. They worked with various health-care providers to improve their cardiovascular health by focusing on reducing risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, abnormal cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity.

Almost half of the participants lost an average of 16 pounds and among those at the highest cardiovascular risk there was a 36 per cent reduction in smoking.

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