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Corporate Wellness takes centre stage at EuroPRevent

EuroPRevent 2011: 14 - 16 Apr 2011, Geneva, Switzerland

International corporate wellness experts issued a call to arms today for cardiologists to take leadership roles in the implementation of workplace wellness schemes.

Two sessions at the EuroPRevent 2011 meeting, held in Geneva, Switzerland, 14 to 16 April, reviewed how integrating well designed health programmes into companies can improve the overall health and quality of life of employees; while at the same time increasing the productivity of the work force.
Risk Factors and Prevention

As more schemes get rolled out across Europe, the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (EACPR), of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), delegates heard, will have a key role to play in ensuring quality control.

“Most adults spend most of their waking hours at work and technology designed to increase productivity has resulted in a more sedentary work environment,” said Martin Halle, from the EACPR.  “The result is a workforce that’s becoming increasingly less healthy, has a lower quality of life and is less productive. The EACPR has recognised that one of the biggest contributions  we can make to cardiovascular health is to go down the corporate route and introduce workplace wellness schemes.” 

Heart disease represents the main premature killer in Europe, with a tendency to topple people at the height of their careers. “By getting involved with the movement of corporate wellness both cardiologists and the EACPR have a great opportunity to make a real difference to society. Cardiologists have had years of experience in cardiac rehabilitation, but now it makes perfect sense for them to get involved in upstream medicine,” said Dorian Dugmore, president and founder of Wellness International, a corporate wellness company based in the UK.

Upstream medicine, he added, describes the ethos behind corporate wellness. “Downstream medicine reflects waiting for an illness to occur and then treating it. In contrast “upstream medicine” attempts to identify risks whenever possible before illness manifests itself in a reduced quality of life, absenteeism and a dramatic increase in the cost of treatment.”

Lee Rice, the CEO and medical director of the Life wellness Institute in San Diego, California, explained how the prevention of cardiovascular disease represents one of the main targets in corporate wellness.  “By aggressive management of weight, blood pressure, stopping smoking, stress and lipid management it’s possible to make a real difference to the number of people who are at risk of heart attacks and dying from MI.”

Indeed, he added,  in the Lifestyle Heart trial, published in the Lancet in 1990, Dean Ornish showed that a lifestyle regimen featuring yoga, meditation, low fat diets, smoking cessation and regular exercise not only reduced the number of cardiac events compared to those following standard medical advice; but also reversed coronary atherosclerosis, shown by decreased stenosis.

Corporate wellness, said Dugmore, can be considered integral to the success of any company.  “If you look at any business it’ll have a business plan and all employees will know the key performance indicators of what makes that business tick and the profit and loss statistics. But as well as knowing their business numbers they need to know their cardiac risk numbers,” he said.

The introduction of corporate wellness schemes can deliver real benefits dramatically reducing the number of days lost due to illness. In the UK the annual number of days lost to illness in the public sector is 10 days, the private sector 6.4 days, but in Adidas, a company with a successful wellness programme in place, the average annual illness rate is just 2.68 days. The Wellness Council of America, said Rice, has estimated that every $1 dollar invested in wellness programs saves $3 in health care costs.

“It isn’t only absenteeism that’s the problem, it’s also presenteeism when people are at work but not very productive,” said Rice. “There’s good data now to show that people who are depressed, smoke, don’t exercise, or who are overweight are much less productive on the job.”

Introducing the “Fit for Future” (3F) programme, that is currently being developed by the EACPR ,  Martin Halle said that that with a plethora of vendors now offering employee health services around Europe it is becoming increasingly important to develop an evidence-based concept that could be overseen by a credible organisation such as the EACPR and  ESC.

“Companies across Europe are doing their own thing in an ad hoc fashion. The  difficulty is that there is no continuity or structured approach. What we’d like to be able to do is offer companies the opportunity to implement preventative strategies that have undergone rigorous scientific assessments to measure their efficacy,” he said.

“Just in the same way as we now produce guidelines for cardiovascular disease treatments we need to be producing guidelines for wellness schemes,” said Rice.

Through data collection and analysis the 3F programme will test different  methodologies and assessment instruments, so that those found to be most effective can be reproduced and used throughout Europe. The EACPR are also planning to award corporations who offer excellent corporate wellness schemes an internationally recognised mark of approval.

“We need to undertake a pilot survey to find out what’s really going on in corporate wellness across Europe. Only then will we know the true scope and potential of this exciting challenge for the future,” said Dugmore.

Jonathan Austin - chief executive of Best Companies , who publish the “Sunday Times Best 100” companies list each year in the UK - said that workplace wellness schemes are one of the eight key elements that employees  most value when considering whether to work for different organisations.  “Companies shouldn’t just think that building a gym is going to solve all their wellbeing issues. We’ve found that the thing employees  rate most highly is having a degree of flexibility in their working week,” said Austin.

But he cautioned that over the last three years  Best Companies’ research, which has involved surveying around 800,000 employees  in the UK with questionnaires , has shown that wellbeing scores are falling dramatically.  “This is especially evident among senior managers,” said Austin. “Due to these recessionary times, leaders and managers are having to make tough decisions and work harder than ever before. Their fight for survival is really taking its toll and making workplace wellness more important than ever before.”
Maura Gillespie, Head of policy and advocacy at the British Heart Foundation, told the meeting that in addition to companies having a responsibility to promote healthy activities to their staff, they also had a social responsibility to provide the healthiest possible products to their customers.  “We want them to reformulate products to reduce the salt and trans fat content. Companies need to be providing information to the public, like the traffic light labelling scheme, to help them make the healthier choices,” she said.

Kees van der Graaf described his  philosophy,  that will be promoted in his new book “Creation of a Dynamic Balance”,  due for publication in May,  that getting a balance  between work, family and friends helps people to become better leaders. Van der Graaf, from the IMD Global Centre, believes people need to define clear goals of what they want to achieve in life. “I recommend that you take a day off each year to reflect on the question of whether you’re still living up to your own purpose in life. My view is that if people are in control of their own destinies their stress levels will come down and they’ll be far less likely to experience cardiovascular disease,” he said.


Read congress news from EuroPRevent 2011 here:

Notes to editor

* EuroPRevent is the annual meeting of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (EACPR), a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology.

About the European Society of Cardiology
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) represents more than 68,000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe.