Commentary: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most prevalent health conditions in America today. Nearly one in three adults is diagnosed with high blood pressure, and less than half of people with the disease have it under control.[i],[ii] Although the factors that contribute to high blood pressure vary from person to person, lifestyle changes – such as reduction of sodium intake and increased physical activity – are a critical component of therapy.

Why should employers care?

1. High blood pressure is one of the 10 most expensive conditions for U.S. employers.[iii] Research found that the economic burden of illness is highest for hypertension – $392 per eligible employee – compared to nine other conditions, including heart disease, depression and mental illness, and arthritis.[iv]

2. People with high blood pressure miss 0.9 to 4.2 additional days of work, compared to people without chronic disease.[v]

Also see: Why and how to offer a successful smoking cessation program

3. More than 35 million physician office visits each year are attributed to high blood pressure,[vi]  which means employees are away from work for brief periods or extended time if the visit takes longer than expected or results in hospitalization.

Employers can play an important role in employees’ high blood pressure control, by improving the overall health of the workforce and lowering costs associated with the disease. Consider implementing these strategies that promote a healthy workplace and reduce risk factors:

1. Educate employees. Because nearly 20% of Americans don’t realize they have high blood pressure,[vii] education is a crucial first step. Employers can participate in national observances related to hypertension, such as National High Blood Pressure Month (May) or the Measure Up/Pressure Down® National Day of Action (May 5, 2016).

Also see: Wellness programs impossible to grasp

2. Support healthy eating – and drinking. Stock office vending machines and refrigerators with healthy beverages, low-sodium snacks and fresh, healthy foods. And be sure to feature non-alcoholic options at office happy hours, as more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men can raise blood pressure.viii

3. Provide free screenings. Blood pressure screenings at the workplace make it easy for employees to see if they have pre-hypertension or hypertension. Ensure that employees are referred to a primary care provider for follow up if readings are escalated (above 140/90 mmHg).

4. Encourage movement. Sitting less and moving more is one way to create a healthy workplace. Offer a section of standing or treadmill desks that employees can use and, when possible, turn small group meetings into walking meetings if location and weather allow.

Also see: Workplace culture more important benefit than wellness

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hypertension control, but employers who provide education, access to screenings and a workplace that encourages positive behaviors set the stage for reduced health costs, improved productivity and a healthier workforce. This strategy doesn’t just benefit employees – healthy, productive employees help an organization achieve business goals and improve the bottom line. 

Jerry Penso, M.D., MBA, is chief medical and quality officer for the American Medical Group Association, which supports its members in enhancing population health and care for patients through integrated systems of care.

[i] Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009. National vital statistics reports. 2011; 60 (3).

[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: prevalence, treatment, and control of hypertension—United States, 1999-2002 and 2005-2008. MMWR. 2011; 60 (4):103-8.

[iii] National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2009, with chartbook on trends in the health of Americans. Hyattsville, MD: 2010.

[iv] Goetzel RZ, Long SR, Ozminkowski RJ, Hawkins K, Wang S, Lynch W. Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting U.S. employers. J Occup Environ Med. 2004;46:398-412.

[v] Wang PS, Beck A, Berglund P, et al. Chronic medical conditions and work performance in the health and work performance questionnaire calibration surveys. J Occup Environ Med. 2003; 45:1303-1311.

[vi] Stewart WF, Ricci JA, Chee E, Morganstein D. Lost productive work time costs from health conditions in the United States: results from the American productivity audit. J Occup Environ Med. 2003;45(12):1234-1246.

[vii] Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2012 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012; 125 (1): e2–220.

viii Alcohol and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association. Accessed Sept. 10, 2012.


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