Tag Archive for Workers

Oregon Explores Treadmill Desks for State Workers

Anthony Behrens worries that the Affordable Care Act is going to kill him, but not for the usual reasons cited by opponents of the federal health care law.

Behrens is a senior policy analyst in the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services Insurance Division. The task of implementing the health law has kept him sitting at his desk 12 hours during the day followed by another few hours at home each night.

Behrens was so alarmed by research pointing to possible long-term health consequences from sitting for extended periods of time that he pitched a solution to his local state legislator: installing treadmill desks that would allow state workers to walk at slow speeds while they are working.

“Even if you get regular exercise at a gym, you’re still going to die sooner if you spend a certain amount of time sitting at a desk,” Behrens said. “I didn’t realize that if you sit for an hour, from that point on your body shuts down and almost goes into hibernation mode.”

A recent study of more than 200,000 adults 45 and older in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that adults who sat 11 or more hours per day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours a day.

That conversation resulted in a legislative proposal for a pilot project that would fund treadmill desks for some state workers and study the effects on health and productivity. Treadmill desks range in cost from $400 to $5,000, but the hope is that the state could recoup its expenses through lowered health-care costs over the long run.

At a recent hearing on the bill, Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine testified about the potential health benefits via video-conference call while walking on a treadmill desk. “We’ve had extensive experience in deploying these types of programs and universally have seen either positive responses from employees’ improved health or improved productivity,” said Levine, who is widely credited with popularizing the concept. Legislators in the room could see the technology in action while they mulled its merits.

Levine told lawmakers they should act on mounting scientific evidence about the consequences of being sedentary. In 2012 alone, Levine said, 1,300 peer-reviewed studies were published linking sedentariness with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other negative health effects.

“Even if one does go to the gym three times a day, and if you make your (recommended) 10,000 steps at the gym, the long periods of sedentariness that we experience at work are not offset by those intermediary, scattered episodes of gym-going,” he said.

Use of treadmill desks has taken hold in a range of private companies, including BlueCross BlueShield and Marriott (see video), but is not common in the public sector, in part because of concerns about upfront costs.

Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch criticized the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation for its use of treadmills. “In a post-sequester world, where White House tours are being canceled and Easter egg hunts are being threatened, you can imagine why American people would take a very cynical view about federal employees being furnished with thousand-dollar treadmill desks,” he said at a recent hearing.

But to Republican state Rep. Jim Thompson, the Oregon bill’s sponsor, the potential benefits of treadmill desks far outweigh the costs. “It’s not unbearably expensive; one of those units costs less than the desk I have in my office,” he said. Still, Thompson said, the bill will have a better chance of passing if they can find some support from private donors.

“We are not designed to sit,” he said. “We talk about all these things we need to do to get people healthier, but when are we actually going to try some of them?”

This story was originally published by Stateline.org. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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Opinion: Can Google Analytics Replace Public Health Workers?

As big data becomes more sophisticated, the question about whether analytics tools — like those developed by Google — could someday replace data compiled by federal agencies.

A case in point is the Google Flu Trends website, which could someday become a suitable replacement for much of the work now performed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

That day, however, is not likely to come for a least a few years, according to a recent opinion article in the National Journal, although many agree there is great potential in such technology if it can be honed.

A comparison of Google’s flu trend graph and the CDC’s data shows a discrepancy in findings:

Google Flu Trends map
Google Flu Trends chart

CDC flu trends chart

While Google shows the current flu outbreak as being the worst of the past six years, the Center for Disease Control shows that the current outbreak is bad, but not as bad as outbreaks of at least two years past. Furthermore, the CDC graph shows that the outbreak is already on the decline. The discrepancy can be accounted for if one looks at the simplistic nature of Google’s data, according to the article.

The CDC uses a combination of data: reports of sickness across many disease control centers along with tweaks made by public health experts with years of experience. Google’s data is based off of search results that do their best to filter out search noise, but with limited success. The things that’s missing, according to the article? The human factor. And Google admits the tool is still in an early phase of development; it has a ways to go before it can compete with human data analysis.

“We intend to update our model each year with the latest sentinel provider [influenza-like illness] data, obtaining a better fit and adjusting as online health-seeking behavior evolves over time,” Matt Mohebbi, a Google software engineer recently wrote for Forbes. “With respect to the current flu season, it’s still too early to tell how the model is performing.”

But in the future, we could see a combination of the two, said Lynnette Brammer, a flu epidemiologist with the CDC. While there may never be a substitute for human decision-making, technology could save public heath workers a lot of time, she said. “We want the data transmission to be as easy for the people providing it to us as possible,” she said. “But the thing we don’t want is to lose the connection we have with those people. Even if you have really good data coming in, you’re always going to have questions about what it means.”

When comparing the two systems, one primarily run by people and the other by a machine, it comes down to understanding complexity. “It’s really hard, certainly for us at CDC, to understand what’s causing that change,” Brammer said. “They’re seeing pretty much record levels of influenza-like illness. And while ours are high, they’re not at historical limits by any means. We just have a lot more flexibility and ability to track down and ask additional questions and find the answers to those questions.”

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