The Family Factor of Corporate Wellness

I found an article on NPR through LinkedIn that discusses how the time between school and bedtime shapes children’s health. It raises some interesting points about our work-centric society and the harmful effects of such a society on health.

Americans tend to work long and hard. The emergence of women in the full-time work force, and the resulting (opportunistically-driven) rises in cost of living, have made it so that many families have both parents working full-time jobs to make ends meet. This means 40+ hour workweeks and a wide variation in vacation allowances.

Combined with the trappings of school and extracurricular activities, families are stretched and plied and end up having very limited time to spend time together, let alone eat healthful food. The result?  More reliance on easy-to-fix meals. In other words, boxes and bags and take-out and processed food and so on and so forth.

Over time, it adds up, as evidenced by the fact that over 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese. Statistically, everyone reading this either has or knows multiple children who are at unhealthy weights. Over the span of an entire company, think of how this scales.

Let’s take an example of a mid-size company and say that it has about a thousand employees. According to the 2010 census, about 30% of households have their “own children”, which is taken to be people <18 years old dependents. Thus, we can estimate that about 30% of a firm (300 employees) has children that are included on the corporate health insurance plans. Throw in the average of two kids per household, and you have about six hundred more people for whom you’re responsible when it comes to medical claims.

Now throw in the new health care reform, which puts children on parents’ medical insurance until the age of 26, or when they get their own health insurance through an employer. With overweight and obese children, just like adults, medical expenditures go up.

They’re sick more often. They’re more susceptible to dental issues from cavities. At younger ages, they require parents to be absent from work to care for them. And with the rise of Type-II diabetes in adolescents, among other lifestyle-related ailments, they require more money spent in the form of medications, doctor visits, and (occasionally) operations and medical equipment.

In effect, your employees’ children are also employees. Leaving them out of a corporate wellness strategy is like ignoring people in their first ten years of working for the company. It makes no sense. You must be aware of your employees’ children when you construct a wellness program.

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