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Heart disease is the strongest risk factor for reduced work productivity, according to a new report that may be the first nationwide analysis to specifically identify which diseases are most likely to result in decreased worker productivity. The report, Health Status of the United States Workforce, determined that workers under age 55 who have heart disease are eight times more likely to experience reduced productivity — or the ability to do one’s job — than workers without heart disease. Workers in this age group who have diabetes or arthritis are six and four times more likely, respectively, to report work limitations.
In addition, the report found that absenteeism due to health-related causes could result in at least $65 billion in lost wages annually, says Edward Emmett, MD, professor and director of academic programs in occupational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"This report marks the first time we’ve been able to evaluate the health of the U.S. work force, and the results are not as good as we’d hoped," Emmett says. "This information is truly a call to action. Clearly, there is a need for better diagnosis and treatment in order to extend productive life-years, maximize continued employment, and also decrease health care expenditures associated with medical complications."
The report suggests that the presence in the work force of undiagnosed and uncontrolled chronic conditions greatly increases the risk of serious illness, says Robin Hertz, PhD, epidemiologist and senior director of outcomes research at Pfizer Inc. "As many as 90,000 heart attacks and vascular events among workers each year in the U.S. may be due to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, based on projections using the Framingham Heart Study equations," Hertz says. "Smoking, another major risk factor, may be associated with as many as 74,000 cases of acute coronary events per year in the work force."
Pfizer conducted the study and prepared the report. The report presents new analyses of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). NHANES III is a nationally representative survey of approximately 34,000 people, and NHIS is a nationally representative survey of approximately 24,000 households, which includes 63,000 people. About 118 million people ages 18-64 in the United States are employed, accounting for 73% of the adult population in that age group. Fifty-four percent of employed persons are male, and 69% are under the age of 45.
"Most studies linking health and productivity are limited to single diseases and small populations," Hertz says. "Analysis of major national surveys has enabled us to expand our knowledge base and communicate new information that will serve the interests of both employers and employees."
These are some of the other findings presented in the report:
• An estimated 37 million American workers have high cholesterol. Sixty-seven percent of the people with high cholesterol are not adequately controlled. Forty-one percent of those with high cholesterol have not even been diagnosed. These high rates of undiagnosed and uncontrolled disease put both the worker and the employer at a disadvantage.
• An estimated 18 million workers have high blood pressure. Seventy-eight percent of those with high blood pressure are not adequately controlled. Thirty-five percent of workers with high blood pressure don’t even know about it.
• Men are less likely than women to be aware of their asymptomatic chronic conditions.
• Workers with arthritis are absent from work three times as often as workers without arthritis. Absenteeism is highest among workers ages 35-44, the age group least likely to be treated with prescription medication for arthritis. Arthritis poses a threefold to fourfold increased risk of diminished work productivity.
• Workers with migraine headaches are absent from work three times as often as workers without migraines. Workers under 55 years of age with migraines are twice as likely to not be able to do the amount or kind of work for which they are responsible or skilled as workers under 55 who don’t have migraines.
• Eight percent of workers ages 18-39 screen positive for major depression, but only 12% of these workers are treated with antidepressant medications. Two percent of employed men and 5% of employed women have attempted suicide.
[For a copy of the complete report, contact Mary Ann Bohrer at (917) 941-9907 or Susan Yarin at (212) 733-5260.]