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Chronic diseases can affect anyone at any time. With that said, there are many common risk factors for chronic diseases. Some of these risk factors, like age or genetics, can’t be changed. But, there are certain risk factors a person can control—based on decision they make towards their health and wellness.

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As an employer, you want your employees to stay healthy, after all healthy employees are productive, engaged and don’t make as many benefits claims. Helping your employees reduce their risk factors for chronic diseases through employee wellness programs is one way to accomplish this goal. But, along with your wellness program, it’s important to know what risk factors employees can exert control over, and how you, as their employer can help. Here are five risk factors you should inform your staff about.

1. Tobacco Use

In 2017, Stats Canada determined that 15% of Canadians smoke—that’s around 4.6 million people. The health effects of smoking are well-known and include lung cancer and heart disease.

Perhaps it’s knowing the health risks that’s encouraged 62% of adult smokers to plan to quit within the next six months. But quitting is not easy. Nicotine dependence is hard to overcome. People attempting to quit smoking can experience withdrawal affects such increased anxiety, sleep deprivation and irritability.

To support your employees health, build an employee wellness program that gives them the support they need to quit smoking for good. A tobacco control policy is one place to start. You can restrict the use of tobacco near your building and in company cars. Employees who are trying to quit smoking won’t be tempted by the sights and smells of tobacco when they’re at work. You can also provide coverage for smoking cessation treatments, like nicotine patches, in your benefits plan.

2. Physical Inactivity

Many employees time at work is relatively sedentary—they spend 7-9 hours sitting at a desk, working on a computer. Outside of work, your employees might not be getting as much exercise as they need and this inactivity is a major risk factor for chronic disease. The World Health Organization attributes two million deaths per year to physical inactivity. Sedentary lifestyles increase the risks of diabetes, colon cancer, depression, and many other conditions.

The WHO recommends adults between the ages of 18 to 64 do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week.

Your employees already know they need to exercise, but fitting in workouts around workdays can be difficult. To help employees exercise, consider organizing a daily walking club at work. Flexible work schedules make it easier for employees to get to the gym—you can also provide access to discounted gym memberships or an online health and wellness app that helps track steps and provides short workouts employees can do at their desk.

3. Unhealthy Diet

An unhealthy diet is another big risk factor for chronic disease. High salt diets can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. Poor diets have also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Your employees probably know they should be eating more vegetables and less high-salt foods, but they may face obstacles that make healthy eating harder.

To help employees reduce this risk factor, you can provide healthy foods in the workplace. Provide fruits and vegetables in meetings instead of doughnuts, fill your office kitchen with healthy snacks and ensure catered lunches are healthy.

4. Excess Weight

Being overweight or obese is linked to a variety of chronic conditions like sleep apnea, diabetes and high blood pressure.

There are many ways you can make it easier for your employees to reach healthy weights. The strategies suggested above to encourage healthy eating and exercise among your employees can help with excess weight.

You can also offer health coaches to your employees so they can get professional help meeting their goals. Some companies host weight loss competitions to encourage employees; if you do this, participation in the competition should be completely optional.

5. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, two-thirds of strokes and half of heart disease cases are caused by high blood pressure. People can have high blood pressure without knowing it.

To help your employees get healthy, you could provide blood pressure screening in your workplace. Employees who find out they have high blood pressure can then be referred to their doctors.

The HR Hub for Healthy Employees

When you help your employees reduce the five risk factors listed above, you’re not only helping them stay healthy, you’re increasing their chances of living longer. HR departments can add health and wellness into the HR strategy by accessing the JungoHR hub—which includes easy access to health and wellness coaches, as well as benefits and healthcare providers. An HR Hub makes it easy to provide a well-rounded and strategic health plan for all employees.

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Debbie Russell

Debbie Russell

Debbie is the assistant vice president in the Calgary office of GroupQuest Benefits Resources Inc., partnering with Group Insurance Advisors to support and help grow their employee benefits businesses. Debbie has over 30 years’ experience in the insurance industry. She understands building relationships is what drives this business. She holds the Certified Health Insurance Specialist (CHS) and Group Benefits Associate (GBA) designations and is a member of Advocis. On a more personal note, Debbie enjoys good food, good wine, and having a good time with family and friends. She loves golfing, camping, hiking and travelling.