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Dr. Cooper on National Employee Health & Fitness Day

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How Healthy is Your Workplace? A Question to America's Employers

I would like to pose a very important question to CEOs, presidents and human resources agents: How healthy is your company? Now, I am not asking about your company's financial condition, but rather, I am referring to the health and wellness of your employees.To observe Employee Health and Fitness Day on May 21, I encourage corporations to consider their employees' health. A company cannot be considered successful unless it takes responsibility for the physical well-being of its employees. As a nation, we are facing epidemic proportions of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. I ask, does your company mirror these national results?

Does your company still have a large portion of employees who smoke? Tobacco is the number one killer in the United States. How many employees are dangerously overweight or obese? An estimated 64 percent of Americans are overweight and 31 percent are classified as obese. Do employees at your office exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week? The Surgeon General's office has recommended at least that amount of physical activity to maintain strength and help prevent disease, but more than 40 percent of Americans fall into the at-risk sedentary category. And most importantly, does your company's senior level management encourage physical activity or set an example?

While our government is taking notice of the nation's alarming health care trends, the responsibility of effecting change remains in the hands of individuals. Through proactive worksite wellness programs, companies can take action to address the health and wellness needs of their employees – both for the sake of the individuals and for the long-term viability of entire organizations.

Even a small step a company's leadership team takes to advance the health of employees can give substantial results. Health promotion programs have made tremendous progress with a growing body of evidence now indicating long-term benefits of $3 to $8 for every dollar invested. Today, we spend over $1 trillion a year in the United States on healthcare, yet less than 5 percent of those trillion-plus dollars is spent for public health and only a fraction for health promotion. Overall, worksite health promotion programs can lead to stronger worker productivity, less turnover and absenteeism, and reduced health care costs. All of which can lead to a very healthy bottom line. I invite companies who have not already made a first step to secure the well-being of their employees to use May 21 as a beginning to a long and healthy future. Companies simply cannot afford not to invest in the health of their greatest asset.

Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH
President, Founder, CEO
The Cooper Aerobics Center (Dallas, Texas)