Cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be deadly, costly, and tenacious.
In fact, the American Heart Association estimates that by 2035 up to 45% of U.S. adults will live with cardiovascular disease, increasing healthcare costs to more than a trillion dollars.
For years this condition has been a notorious silent killer in the United States. Even more concerning is that, after a steady decline, CVD is on the rise again. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to address the issue and devise solutions to mitigate its consequences.
Since it affects all aspects of people’s lives, it’s also an obligation for employers who want a healthy and productive workforce. Thus, one of the solutions to try to reduce cardiovascular disease is disease prevention programs in the workplace. It’s a way to take control of CVD and ensure employees have a better chance against this disease.
Cardiovascular Disease in the Workplace: A Growing Epidemic
The American Heart Disease Association 2022 report reveals that, in 2020, more than 19 million deaths were attributed to CVD globally.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States, with a 3.3% increase in mortality rate between 2020 and 2021. The attempts to contain this disease and the significant healthcare progress are slowly regressing as of recent years.
Between 2000 and 2011, the U.S. heart-related mortality rate declined by 3.7% annually. Ultimately, in 2015 the CDC reported the first increase of almost 1% in decades since 1969.
At present, the risk of cardiovascular disease is growing faster than the capacity to fight back.
One way to tackle the issue, particularly in the workplace, is to provide employees with resources and programs to reduce the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
The main risk factors for heart disease and stroke that need to be identified and addressed are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
- Unhealthy alcohol use
- The overweight pandemic
Since it’s such a perplexing issue, preventing CVD should be at the forefront of healthcare priorities. With that in mind, this Shortlister article explores how disease prevention programs try to reduce cardiovascular disease by analyzing their importance in the workplace.
What are Disease Prevention Programs?
As the name suggests, disease prevention programs are specific strategies and efforts to prevent the development or reduce the severity of chronic diseases and morbidities, including CVD. The definition is broad since these preventative efforts range from awareness campaigns to federal laws.
For example, one report, “Cardiovascular effect of bans on smoking in public places: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” reveals that after ban implementations, the risk of heart attack decreased by 17%. The effect was especially noticeable among younger people and non-smokers.
Overall, there are three prevention methods:
- Primary prevention includes any efforts to intervene before a disease occurs—for example, vaccination, changing negative behaviors, setting up laws, etc.
- Secondary prevention includes early identification of health issues through regular screenings and testing.
- Tertiary prevention includes efforts to slow or stop the progression of a disease post-diagnosis.
Regarding the workplace, disease prevention programs are employers’ initiatives to improve workers’ well-being through different benefits packages. These employee programs usually focus on primary and secondary prevention. Although they are individual to every business, the need for some form of heart disease prevention is universal.
The Challenge of Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
One in four people dies of cardiovascular disease, reports the CDC.
Furthermore, the economic burden of health care services, medications, and premature death of CVD is $219 billion annually. This number is set to grow even more in the next decade.
But the tricky part about this disease is that cardiovascular risk factors take years to manifest. There’s no way of being 100% certain when and how they’ll show.
Take, for instance, obesity and diabetes.
The growing incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adults is closely related to the obesity epidemic. However, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact time the disease will manifest or if it will in the first place. One research published on PLOS Medicine shows that the duration of obesity can impact the likelihood of developing a health issue.
But that’s only one factor.
Overall, we can’t determine the how and the when. However, once it happens, it’s more complicated or impossible to reverse the effects of heart disease or its risk factors.
Several years back, the President of the American Heart Association, Dr. Steven Houser, for CNBC, said that the future of CVD research is to stop the disease before it starts.
For Houser, a better way would be to understand how people can become motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle, despite socioeconomic struggles. He predicted this “priority switch” to happen in the next decade.
Although we still have a long way to go, it’s more evident now that progress lies in prevention rather than a cure.
How Do Disease Prevention Programs Reduce Cardiovascular Disease?
That raises a question – how do disease prevention programs reduce cardiovascular disease? One way to answer it is by saying they tackle the correct issues and support lifestyle changes.
Overall, they tackle two main criteria for CVD, or the following:
- Understanding and addressing social determinants of cardiovascular health – These factors depend on many things, from economic and social conditions to cultural and geographical differences.
- Influencing modifiable risk behaviors – These include negative habits like alcohol and tobacco use, overeating, low physical activity, etc. Unlike the social determinants, these are changeable conducts, and the right approach can contain them before they lead to chronic illnesses and morbidities.
There are many different support programs across the U.S. For example, the CDC supports heart disease prevention programs throughout all U.S. states. They aim to cut risk factors and reduce health disparities within health departments.
Milltown Hearts 2022 initiative is one example of a heart attack and stroke prevention program. They tackle the problem by implementing the ACBS principle, or aspirin as appropriate, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation.
Another case in point is the Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation (WISEWOMAN) program. It targets women between the ages of 40 to 64 with no or low insurance and a low income. The program offers screenings and health counseling, among other resources, promoting healthier behavior.
Cardiovascular Disease & Workplace
State and local preventative programs greatly aid the fight against CVD. However, this is just one way of addressing the issue.
Properly implemented employee programs with cardiovascular disease prevention measures could be just as efficient and are more than necessary.
Take for example U.K. study “Heart Disease and Work” by Anne E Price examines the close correlation between CVD and the workplace. The findings reveal that a record number of people reported work-related illnesses or felt like their workplace causes or contributes to their bad health. Additionally, employees reported higher levels of absenteeism. Or, for those with work-related cardiovascular disease, the sick days averaged around 23 annually.
The study also found that specific workplace hazards aggravate or cause CVD, including:
- Physical hazards – This includes temperature extremes, vibrations, or noise. The latter, for example, can cause higher blood pressure, which is one of the critical risk factors. As of lately, sedentary jobs also fall into this category.
- Chemical exposures – This includes exposure to lead, carbon disulfide, methylene chloride, nitrate esters, or other chemicals. Evidence shows that higher levels of exposure have been linked to specific cardiovascular conditions.
- Biological hazards – Although there are no direct correlations, the study concludes that individuals with CVD could be at greater risk if exposed to biological hazards.
- Ergonomic and psychosocial exposures – Scientists found a significant correlation between work stress , high cholesterol and blood clotting decades ago. This is still a very prevalent issue.
Despite improved working conditions and reduced workplace hazards, the CVD risk remains, especially in the aging workplace.
Nowadays, employment uncertainty, work overload, and overall employee stress significantly contribute to CVD.
Employers should implement disease management programs to prevent cardiovascular disease in the workplace or try and reduce the consequences. From cardiovascular health programs to mental well-being benefits, there’s an abundance of ways companies can invest in and support their workers’ health.
Disease Prevention Programs at the Workplace
The workforce is aging, and stress is rising.
A combination of these two factors can increase the chances of heart disease. In fact, according to a 2017 report, “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention: Workplace Health in the United States,” CVD risk increases with age. While at age 24, the risk is 20%. At 45 is 50%. For employees aged 65, the risk is a staggering 80%. Equally important is that many of these people, even those above 55, are employed.
Beyond the health risk, cardiovascular disease also poses an organizational risk.
From increased absenteeism to higher employer healthcare costs, companies face many challenges when disregarding their employees’ health. The report also shows that less than half of employers offered some type of health promotion program. That’s a devastating number, considering the severity of this silent killer.
The research clearly shows a gap between what employees need regarding their health and what they get. Or, more precisely, what they don’t get. Thus, investing in the employees’ wellness in the workplace is necessary and requires a thorough understanding of the employee’s health priorities.
The following are common employer strategies on how to prevent cardiovascular disease in the workplace.
1) Cardiovascular Health Programs
Before turning to other solutions, companies should consider investing in cardiovascular health programs in the workplace. This is especially important if their workforce demographic comprises high-risk individuals for CVD.
Overall, these employee programs offer targeted solutions that focus on heart disease prevention.
2) Programs That Promote Physical Activity
Physical inactivity is a direct risk factor for heart health.
In fact, according to the British Heart Foundation, physical activity reduces the risk of developing heart disease by up to 35%. Therefore, employee benefits that promote physical activity, like corporate fitness, gym memberships, and onsite fitness programs or facilities, can reduce the effects of sedentary jobs.
3) Wellness & Mental Health Programs
Mental wellness in the workplace is just as important as physical health. Chronic stress increases blood pressure, a risk factor for CVD. Longer exposures to a stressful environment could cause heart trouble. The American Heart Association reports that two out of three employees consider their work a significant stress source.
To tackle the issue and create a workplace culture around mental wellness, companies should offer their employees a range of wellness benefits, including holistic ones like mindfulness and meditation.
4) Tobacco Cessation Programs
There’s no doubt that tobacco use can harm the body. Numerous studies have confirmed this over the years. However, as a major factor for heart disease, smoking is responsible for 25% of deaths caused by CVD. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes per day and the longer a person continues to smoke. Even exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous.
Thus, workplace tobacco cessation programs can help smokers and non-smokers improve their health.
5) Access to Healthy Food
As menial as it sounds, many workers still don’t have access to healthy food in their workplace. Yet, poor nutrition is directly linked to many heart health problems.
Making healthy living accessible is possible through nutrition programs that offer employees healthy and balanced meals. In fact, this not only reduces CVD risk but can benefit their overall health.
Some of the ways companies can do this are through catering services or providing nutritional snacks regularly.
Cardiovascular Health Programs
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Implementing Disease Prevention Programs at the Workplace
Implementing disease prevention programs at the workplace requires organization and attentiveness across all departments. The process is more complicated than introducing a workplace benefit and expecting it to work.
A successful disease prevention program is carefully selected and implemented. What works for one company might not for another.
Thus, with the help of managers and HR, the employer should assess what employees need regarding their health and well-being.
It takes four steps to do that:
- Health Assessment – Cardiovascular disease prevention should correspond with employees’ needs and health goals. For the most effective approach, companies can do a workplace health assessment. This gives them information on current health, factors influencing CVD, and worker expectations.
This assessment should identify the health needs of the employees and the factors that influence their health, such as the work environment and organizational culture. The assessment can be conducted informally or formally, and it should involve employees from the beginning.
- Planning Stage – Companies should set up an organizational strategy and step-by-step governance structure to help them manage the program. This stage should cover the objectives, supervision, risks, and program assessment.
- Program Implementation – The program implementation stage is when the plan is put into action. This stage can be challenging, as it requires the coordination of many different people and resources. However, it is important to remember that the success of the program depends on the successful implementation of the plan.
The organization should provide clear communication to employees about the program and its benefits. They should also make sure that the program is accessible and convenient for employees to participate in.
- Evaluation – The final step in developing a worksite wellness program for cardiovascular disease prevention is to evaluate its effectiveness. Not all prevention efforts will work with the same efficiency. So, it’s essential to measure how each affects the objectives.
The evaluation should be conducted on a regular basis, so that the program can be adjusted as needed. It is also important to involve employees in the evaluation process, so that they can provide feedback on the program.
Elements of Effective Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Programs
One question echos across medical circles and public health domains: are heart disease prevention programs successful?
As research and real-world experiences demonstrate, well-structured and comprehensive cardiovascular disease prevention programs, integrating education, risk assessment, lifestyle interventions, and policy changes, exhibit substantial success rates.
Their impact not only enhances individual well-being but also contributes to a broader societal health improvement, highlighting the vital role of such programs in mitigating the burden of heart disease.
Elements of a successful disease prevention initiative focused on cardiovascular health include:
- Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about cardiovascular risk factors, healthy lifestyles, and the importance of regular check-ups is fundamental. Providing accessible and accurate information empowers individuals to make informed decisions regarding their heart health.
- Risk Assessment: Conducting personalized risk assessments aids in identifying individuals who might be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. This assessment considers factors such as age, gender, family history, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and lifestyle habits.
- Healthy Lifestyle Promotion: Encouraging healthy behaviors like maintaining a balanced diet, reduction of sodium, as well as regular physical activity, can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Policy and Environmental Changes: Advocating for policies that promote heart health, such as healthier food options in public spaces and smoke-free areas, and access to automated external defibrillator (AED) at worksites can have a broader impact on cardiovascular disease prevention.
- Tailored Approach: Customize the program to the unique needs and demographics of the target population. Recognize that different groups may have varying risk factors and cultural considerations that influence their cardiovascular health.
- Engage Leadership Support: Secure support and commitment from senior leadership within organizations or communities. Their endorsement can enhance program visibility and encourage participation.
- Incentives and Recognition: Implement incentive programs to motivate participation, such as rewards for achieving certain health milestones or attending educational sessions. Publicly recognize individuals and teams for their dedication to heart health.
- Long-Term Commitment: View cardiovascular disease prevention as a long-term commitment. Consistency and continuity are crucial for sustaining positive health outcomes over time.
In summary, the journey toward effective heart disease prevention programs is marked by integrating these crucial components.
On a Final Note
CVD risk is rising, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented.
Studies show that preliminary treatment and awareness are effective, which is how disease prevention programs try to reduce cardiovascular disease.
A healthy workforce represents a healthy society and vice versa. Since these two are not mutually exclusive, it’s paramount for cardiovascular disease prevention to find its place in the workplace.
From cardiovascular health programs to perks like healthy snacks or gym memberships, companies could do a lot more to increase heart health and contribute to healthy and happy employees.
- Cardiovascular Disease: A Costly Burden for America Projections Through 2035
- 2022 Heart Disease & Stroke Statistical Update Fact Sheet Global Burden of Disease
- Cardiovascular Effect of Bans on Smoking in Public Places: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Health Topics – Heart Disease and Heart Attack
- Duration of Obesity Exposure Between Ages 10 and 40 Years and Its Relationship With Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors: A Cohort Study
- Rise in Heart Disease Deaths Sends Experts Down New Paths
- CDC Prevention Programs
- Heart Disease and Work
- Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention: Workplace Health in the United States, 2017
- Resilience In the Workplace
- Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease