Friends for Life: Heart Disease and Auto Workers

LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – We’ve been telling you how heart disease is the number one killer of men in America. But did you know that according to GM and the UAW, it was also the number cause of death and disability among auto-workers?

This started back in 2001 when the International UAW office got that heart disease data.

So from 2005 until 2010 researchers at MSU looked at a number of autoworkers from GM’s Lansing and Pontiac plants.

They found a handful of health issues but say employees weren’t unhealthy because they were autoworkers. In fact, GM says they have plans in place to help their workers live long, productive lives.

“We hypothesized this group of people,” explained Dr. Ved Gossain, professor of medicine, division of endocrinology, MSU. “The prevalence of diabetes may be increased or prevalence of other cardiovascular risk factors may be increased.”

A total of 190 autoworkers from GM’s Lansing and Pontiac plants participated in the study. There were 132 men and 58 women.

The group was evaluated on risk factors, including obesity, smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure because the company was already saying that the cardiovascular risk and morbidity is increased.

“So we were going to look for what’s causing it,” added Dr. Gossain. “We looked at what job that they had as to how the physical activity may contribute to their work conditions. We looked at if they felt that if they were stressed a lot at work or not.”

Although stress levels and physical activity had a minimal effect the research showed that the prevelance of diabetes among the workers was 15.3 percent, double the national average of 7.5 percent during the time of this study.

53-percent of workers were obese with another nearly 36-percent considered overweight and 67-percent had higher levels of bad cholesterol than the national average of 31-percent.

“It says what the company already knew in the sense that their cardiovascular morbidity and mortality is increased,” continues Dr. Gossain. “What we were able to add to that is these are the reasons.”

But through the course of this five year research study Dr. Ved Gossain says the job occupation itself has no reflection on the results of the data. “It may have more to do with their lifestyle rather than the fact that they’re working for the auto-industry itself.”

It turns out General Motors has had a health and wellness plan in place since the 1980s to promote healthy living.

The one in place now is called “Life-steps”. For free workers can have their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, get information including exercises to do, foods to eat and life steps to stay healthy.

“And that awareness is helping carry over into our personal lives at home and with our family,” said Tom Possehn, Human Resource Development Rep, UAW Local 602.

The program also gets workers to participate in annual workout challenges and it gets competitive. “We’ve had a plank challenge and also just recently we completed a ready step and go challenge which consisted of walking,” says Jemonica Thomas, Team member, Quality Dept,Delta Twp. Plant. “We definitely do portion control, count calories, read labels, and exercising with all of the challenges that we did with life steps.”

Living a healthy lifestyle starts with you. Despite historical data General Motors has played a vital role in offering resources geared toward making that happen whether it’s working on the line, or working at home.

“I think it helps by it being here on site, the convenience of it because someone don’t want to leave here and go to the doctors office so it brings awareness for the people to be able to get the help here at the plant. You have less absenteeism when you’ve got healthy people, less injuries if you’re healthier because of the repetitive nature of the work that we do here.”

It all boils down to the lifestyle that we live, what we eat, how active we are.

This is just another way to bring awareness to health and also demontrates how beneficial it can be for corporations, like GM, to have wellness programs in place for their workers.

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