Workplace-based health initiatives target smoking, mental health, nutrition #ahcj13


Is your workplace making you sick?

Experts at Health Journalism 2013 in Boston said it can — and does.

Bad bosses can cause employees to lose sleep, while smoking blue-collar workers face the toughest challenge kicking their nicotine habits and the highest stress jobs are those that are highly psychologically demanding, but with little autonomy, they say.

In one Harvard School of Public Health study of nurses who work in nursing homes, those who had bosses with poor management skills on average got 30 minutes less sleep than those with good managers, said Cassandra Okechukwu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social and behavioral services at Harvard.

Study participants wore wrist bands to monitor their sleep, said Okechukwu, who screened managers on effective communications.

Meanwhile, studies show smoking cessation initiatives that include comprehensive occupational programs are most effective in employees kicking the habit, especially among blue-collar workers, Okechukwu said.

In one study, Harvard found some 25.4 percent of blue-collar workers smoked, compared with 12.4 percent of white-collar workers and 21.9 percent of service workers, including waitresses and sales persons. A key reason may be 72 percent of white-collar employees work for employers with smoking bans, versus 54.8 percent of service workers and 33.7 percent of blue-collar workers who largely work outdoors.

Addressing smoking cessation with comprehensive occupational programs is twice as effective as a stand-alone stop smoking programs, Okechukwu said. Studies show the jump in success among hourly employees from 5.9 percent to 11.8 percent, compared with only 9.9 percent to 12.7 percent among salaried employees.

Debra Lerner, Ph.d., M.S., a professor of medicine at Tufts University, asked participants about their most recent doctor’s office visit and whether they were asked about how they were functioning in daily life. Few were, which didn’t surprise Lerner. She said doctors mostly focus instead on the disease processes.

Tufts has a Be Well at Work program that screens applicants at various work sites online about functioning, Lerner said. They are sent an alert to complete an annual online assessment, asking if they’re stressed or saying it’s time for their annual mental health screening.

Studies, she said, show workers flourish in highly psychologically demanding jobs in which they have the greatest autonomy.

Meanwhile, Andrew Gottlieb, M.S.N., M.P.H., F.N.P.-B.C., director of occupational health at Massachusetts General Hospital, highlighted a program that boosted healthier eating among its 23,000 employees. In its cafeteria, MGH places green, yellow and red dots by food selections, signifying healthy, less healthy and least healthy foods, ranging from salads to pizza. The hospital studied cafeteria receipts among participants and found the system was able to boost healthy food consumption by some 20 percent, Gottlieb said.

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Paula Burkes