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The hidden costs of high cholesterol

Especially when left untreated.

It’s time to talk about high cholesterol Opens in a new window. While it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider high-cost health issues External Site among your employees, it actually plays a much larger role in your employees’ health than you might think.

Cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance naturally produced in the liver and assists with cell function. Cholesterol isn’t all bad — as long as you don’t have more of it than your body actually needs. Genetics typically determine how much cholesterol the liver makes, but certain lifestyle behaviors External Site — like an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and being overweight or obese — can lead to an excess of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol that causes fatty plaques to build up in arteries. And that’s where the trouble starts.

High cholesterol is linked to heart disease

According to WebMD® External Site, high cholesterol levels are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease Opens in a new window, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. External Site, and costs around $207 billion annually in lost productivity and medical expenses. To make matters worse, 99 percent of U.S. adults External Site have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Because healthier employees are less likely to call-in sick, employees with multiple risk factors for heart disease will cost you more in medical care, absenteeism, and lost productivity than those with just one or none of those risk factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) External Site.

High cholesterol is often a silent condition, meaning it produces no obvious symptoms and can go easily unnoticed (and untreated) for decades. Research has shown External Site that levels can start to increase in early childhood. And the longer someone has high cholesterol, the more at-risk they are for developing heart disease.

According to the CDC, an estimated 98.6 million adults (45 percent of the population) External Site have total cholesterol levels higher 200 mg/dL, putting them at borderline-high risk for heart disease. Just under one-third of this group (around 16 percent of the population) have levels higher than 240 mg/dL, putting them at high risk. Many people don’t even know they have high cholesterol External Site until they suffer from a heart attack or stroke, and that has to change.

Because high cholesterol affects everyone — young, old, male or female — and is steadily increasing among millennials External Site, there’s no question that it’s affecting your workforce. Let’s talk about what you can do to help your employees’ keep their cholesterol levels in check, contributing to a happier, healthier workforce — and reducing your health care expenses.

Start here to help your employees manage high cholesterol

As with other health conditions, the workplace is actually an ideal setting External Site to encourage lifestyle changes that positively impact your employees’ heart health Opens in a new window. The CDC recommends taking a multi-faceted approach External Site that includes employee health surveys, health-related educational materials, activities or challenges, periodic blood cholesterol screenings available on-site, and even lifestyle counseling and one-on-one education to help high-risk employees.

In addition, make sure to connect with your authorized Wellmark representative to ensure you have adequate coverage for cholesterol screening External Site, counseling, and treatment for your employees. The current health recommendations from the National Cholesterol Education Program includes routine screenings for high cholesterol in adults older than 20 every five years. When high cholesterol is detected, lifestyle counseling, additional office visits to monitor cholesterol levels, and medications used to treat high cholesterol should also be covered.

Take small steps to encourage healthy behavior

Because high cholesterol often stems from modifiable lifestyle behaviors External Site, like diet, exercise and tobacco use, you can start small with workplace policies to help support employees with high cholesterol. Here are just a few ideas you can easily implement:

Get healthy discounts without lifting a finger

Reimbursing gym costs for all employees can be a big ask. Thankfully, all Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members have access to Blue365®, a free program Opens in a new window that gives your employees access to deals and discounts from their favorite health and wellness brands. Your employees can use Blue365 to save on everything from gym memberships and fitness trackers to personalized eating plans and more. It’s all available at Opens in a new window.

Ready, set, let’s talk workplace wellness

At Wellmark, we know your business, and have insights and data on your employees that you may not have in-house. Our team of employer health and well-being consultants can serve as an extension of your workforce and provide expertise in creating engaging solutions to meet the unique needs of your employee population.

Learn more, get connected and receive a complimentary consultation Opens in a new window with one of our employer health and well-being experts. Once you complete the form, you’ll receive a copy of our “Well-being that Works” guide. From there, we will be there every step of the way, our team can be your go-to source for finding the right combination of solutions — because one size doesn’t fit all.

If you are interested in learning more about how we can support your organization and employees’ overall health and well-being this year and beyond, contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at Send Email.