Mixed Results For Employer Heart Health Programs

Study associates heart health initiative with workers’ cardiovascular risk factors.

Four out of seven is good enough to win the World Series, but it may not be good enough to convince employers that adopting aggressive heart health programs for workers will lead to fewer heart attacks.
That’s the takeaway from a new study in the journal Health Affairs that looked at the impact of a new American Heart Association workplace wellness initiative on employees’ cardiovascular health risk factors.
The initiative is called the Worksite Health Achievement Index, which the AHA launched in February 2016. The WHAI is a scorecard that employers can use to measure the “comprehensiveness and quality” of their workplace wellness programs targeted at improving their employees heart health and lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease. The WHAI asks employers to answer 55 questions in seven areas:

  • Leadership commitment
  • Organizational policies and environment
  • Strategic communications
  • Health-promoting programs
  • Employee engagement practices
  • Community partnerships
  • Measuring and reporting outcomes

Employers earn points in each category with a perfect score being 151.
Researchers from Truven Health Analytics compared how well 20 large employers scored on the WHAI with the 2015 health insurance claims from 373,478 employees working at those companies. Overall, 21.1 percent of the employees had heart disease with a $329 average claim payment for heart care.
The researchers compared the employers’ total and category-specific WHAI results with employees’ seven risk factors for heart disease:

  • High-blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Unhealthy weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor diet
  • High blood glucose
  • Tobacco use

They found that higher total WHAI scores were associated with reductions in four risk factors—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use and physical inactivity. Higher total WHAI scores were associated with an increase in one risk factor—poor diet. And there was no association between higher total WHAI scores and two risk factors—high blood glucose and unhealthy weight.

The researcher then looked at which of the seven WHAI subcategories had the biggest impact on the seven cardiovascular health risk factors and found similar “mixed” results.
“No clear conclusions can be drawn so far as to which category of employer intervention produces the greatest impact,” the researchers said.
Learn more about what local employers and health care providers are doing to improve employee heart health by reading Prevention: The Most Effective Heart Medicine in Twin Cities Business.