Want to save billions?

Get your employees to lose weight, quit smoking

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

The nation’s largest employers need to learn a lesson from America’s highest well-being cities. Because if they do, they could save big-time annually in health care and absenteeism costs — to the tune of $22 billion.

That’s the finding from Gallup-Healthways, who found that could be the annual savings for the nation’s largest employers if a proportion of their employees quit smoking and shed some pounds, matching the smoking and obesity rates of America's healthiest cities. Savings would come from reductions in absenteeism due to poor health and smoking breaks and from lower health care costs.

According to Gallup, a little more than 19 percent of all U.S. workers smoke. Cutting that number to 13.6 percent — the rate the top cities for well-being enjoy — would result in an estimated savings of $13.7 billion from reduced absenteeism and $3.7 billion from reduced health care costs each year.

Lowering the average obesity rate would save bigger on health care cost savings — $2.6 billion — as well as another $1.7 billion from reduced absenteeism. Those savings would require lowering the percentage of U.S. workers to 20.1 percent, from its current average of 25.7 percent.

On average, Gallup said, reducing obesity and smoking rates would save $661 per year for each employee.

How much do smokers and obese workers cost in lost productivity? Gallup reported smokers miss an additional 2.5 days, while obese workers miss an additional three days due to poor health.

Not only that, but those smoke breaks really add up: Smokers miss a whopping nine days of work per year because they’re outside puffing away.

And those days add up in terms of costs: The estimated expense of absenteeism per employee is $341 for every missed workday.

Health care costs for smokers are estimated at $2,056 per year in excess of the costs of non-smokers; for obese workers, health care costs are estimated at $1,429 per year in excess of the costs for those who aren't obese.

Though admittedly difficult, Gallup researchers had some suggestions for employers to help employees help themselves (and the companies’ bottom line). Suggestions include: Cash incentives, large-scale recognition systems and competitions among teams or departments to improve their health outcomes.

Additionally, Gallup said employers should consider eliminating on-campus smoking; provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables — while eliminating unhealthy food options and desserts in the cafeteria; provide on-site fitness centers and emphasize dental visits. (Their research shows people who go to the dentist at least once a year have considerably higher well-being than those who don’t.)

The findings are based on analysis of more than 67,000 interviews conducted from Jan. 2-Aug. 23, 2013, with American adults who work one hour or more per week.

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