Beyond the Four Walls: Why Community is Critical to Workforce Health

Culinary students preparing to join the workforce.

Researchers establish linkages between workplace health and that of the greater community, and call for business to help forge vibrant and healthy communities.


Researchers at the Vitality Institute analyzed health data—including obesity, smoking rates, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease—of 3,100 U.S. counties; and interviewed more than 70 business and community leaders.

The Issue

A majority of U.S. employers (80%) offer workplace health promotion programs to decrease absenteeism and long-term health care cost, as well as to address the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The study finds that more than 80 percent of U.S. health care costs are attributable to NCDs such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, chronic respiratory diseases, and mental illness.

Key Findings

  • Workplace health varies by employment sector. For example, obesity is prevalent in those who work in public administration, transportation, warehousing, utilities, and mining; less so for workers in the arts, entertainment, recreation, and food service.  

  • Major employment sectors with unhealthy workforce are more likely to be located in counties with poor health.

  • Workforce efforts to promote health are insufficient alone to create lasting change and improve population health.

  • Employers use a mix of strategies to improve community health—engaging in strategic philanthropy, exhibiting corporate social responsibility, and extending workplace health strategies to the community.

  • Opportunities to link community and workplace health include using local data to drive decision-making as well as partnering with research institutions and others to share best practices.


Employers can partner with communities and invest in population health improvement—particularly through advocacy and research initiatives—with potential social and financial returns on their investments.

About the Grantee

The Vitality Institute, a nonprofit research organization, is dedicated to building a culture of well-being by promoting health and preventing chronic disease.