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  • ACOEM Campaign Helps Employers Address Chronic Lung Disease

    Awareness campaign for the workplace provides tools and information on preventing and managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

    As part of its ongoing awareness campaign to address chronic disease in the workplace, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is providing tools and resources to help employers identify and respond to the impact of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — group of diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma — on worker health and productivity. COPD is a major source of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States.

    COPD results in airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, and is characterized by shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, or excess sputum production. COPD develops slowly and worsens over time — most people with COPD are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin. Caused by long-term exposure to irritants that damage the lungs, COPD is irreversible.

    In the United States, cigarette smoke is the most common irritant that causes COPD — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes approximately 75% of COPD to cigarette smoking. Other lung irritants include secondhand smoke and other inhaled smoke (i.e., pipe, cigar, etc.), air pollution, and chemical fumes and dust from the environment or workplace.

    According to the CDC, an estimated 6% of all U.S. adults (15 million people) suffer from COPD. However, as nearly 24 million adults have impaired lung function, COPD may be under diagnosed. In 2010, the economic costs of COPD were estimated at $49.9 billion, including $29.5 billion in direct health care expenditures, $8.0 billion in indirect morbidity costs, and $12.4 billion in indirect mortality costs.

    While COPD can be treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, people suffering from COPD have a diminished quality of life and may find that the condition limits the ability to work and to perform basic activities of daily living. “As smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD, workplace smoking cessation programs are the most effective way for employers to help their employees improve their lives and at the same time lower health care costs and absenteeism,” said Barry Eisenberg, ACOEM executive director.

    “Comprehensive worksite wellness initiatives with a robust smoking cessation program can help prevent or manage the risk of COPD by leveraging the power of prevention – the only sustainable solution to our society’s health crisis,” said Ron Loeppke, MD, MPH, ACOEM President-elect. “The message is to stop smoking, and ACOEM is committed to providing employers with the resources to promote the healthiest workforce possible through an emphasis on wellness and prevention activities that engage workers and their families to be more proactive about their health,” said Dr. Loeppke.

    To address COPD in the workplace, ACOEM is making available information and practical resources for employers to learn more about COPD and smoking prevention programs in the workplace. One such instrument, the Blueprint for Health, provides a free on-line calculator that estimates the overall total health-related costs to employers as well as the impact of specific chronic conditions such as COPD, hypertension, and heart disease on absenteeism.

    This initiative to prevent and manage COPD is part of ACOEM’s Healthy Workforce Now (HWN) program launched in 2009. The goal of HWN is to build a healthier and safer workforce and integrate workplace health and wellness more effectively with the nation’s overall health reform efforts. Healthy Workforce Now advances such action items as establishing a new “national culture of health in the workplace,” better access to health care services for workers, a reduction in workplace health disparities, improvements aimed at the workers’ compensation system and a stronger national response to environmental health risks.

    To learn more about ACOEM’s HWN campaign, or the Blueprint for Health, visit www.acoem.org.

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    About ACOEM — The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) represents more than 4,500 physicians specializing in occupational and environmental medicine. Founded in 1916, ACOEM is the nation’s largest medical society dedicated to promoting the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research, and education. For more information, visit www.acoem.org.