Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is certainly a greater importance on health.
There is now evidence that people with comorbid conditions are at the highest risk of COVID complications, specifically those with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, COPD and obesity (BMI>30) (4).
“A recent report from the CDC appears to drill down that point with striking numbers, showing that 94% of U.S. deaths involving COVID-19 since February were also associated with other conditions, or comorbidities.” (1).
Comorbidities increase your risk of dying from COVID-19, and in the U.S., six in ten individuals have at least one comorbidity, or chronic disease (4).
Potentially an even greater risk is that people may have these risk factors and not even know it.
Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Justin Lessler explains: "This would be true for the flu or cancer or chicken pox. Really almost any disease you can name, your risks for death increase if you have other diseases and other conditions that make you sick."
Lifestyle factors contribute to the onset of chronic diseases, namely a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
And here is the key point: You can prevent or reverse many of these chronic conditions by addressing the root cause: daily lifestyle habits.
And this is where corporate wellness programs come in.
The goal of corporate wellness programs is to assist employees in the awareness of the state of their current health and to prevent the future onset of disease. Given what we know about chronic conditions and comorbidity, and the impact of COVID-19, what will the future of corporate wellness programs look like next year?
We believe it will center around four key areas.
A stronger emphasis on physical activity
Getting people active is one of the most powerful disease prevention and treatment initiatives available and physical activity programs allow you to impact a wide range of health issues all at once, for low cost, and with more inclusivity.
Consistent physical activity decreases the risk of having one or more chronic disease and aids in chronic disease management. Being physical active also lowers stress levels, improves mood, sleep quality, boosts energy levels, aids in weight control, increases muscle strength and improves quality of life.
A shift from utilizing biometric health screenings
The argument can be made that in 2021 biometric health screens are not necessary to have a successful wellness program, and for those that have long used this benchmark, it may be the time to take a year off. Due to the COVID-19 precautions, it can be a challenge to socially distance at an on-site health screen, have remote workers return to the office for a screen, or visit a testing center that also offers COVID-19 testing. It also is a costly expense. Dollars used for biometric screenings can be better utilized to offer employees tools that encourage daily health improvements vs. one time screenings.
A focus on whole-person wellbeing
The pandemic has changed the modern workplace, and at the same time, highlighted the need for mental health resources and continued social connection.
A recent survey from Forbes highlighted the added tension employees are currently facing:
67% of people report higher levels of stress since the outbreak of COVID-19.
57% say they have greater anxiety since the outbreak.
54% say they are more emotionally exhausted.
53% say they feel sadness day-to-day.
50% feel they are more irritable.
42% report their overall mental health has declined.
A corporate wellness program centered on whole-person well-being, utilizing the eight dimensions of wellness (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, vocational, financial and environmental spiritual) aids in building resilience, meets all employees where they are and gives them the ability to thrive.
An increase in digital solutions
Corporate wellness programs can be the glue that keeps an organization together.
A virtual program that targets whole-person health and wellbeing, one that is engaging, offers communication tools and cultivates a culture of health is necessary for today’s worksite. Along with an increase in digital solutions, wellness program administrators will continue to be creative in their offerings by rethinking health fairs, creating ways to socialize safely and engage employees in custom programs to reach their goals.
Although things may look different right now and will continue to well into 2021, there is an opportunity to utilize corporate wellness programs to empower your employees. A virtual program that reaches all employees, one focused in awareness, prevention, consistent physical activity and targets whole-person health, will work to reduce the impact of chronic disease and protect against COVID-19.