Most of us probably associate high health care costs with older employees. While it is true that many health problems—especially certain chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes—tend to surface as an employee ages, the roots of such health issues frequently are sown at a young age. A survey from employee assistance program provider ComPsych finds that employees in their 50s and 60s had an overall healthier lifestyle than their co-workers in their 30s, indicating that wellness initiatives should in some fashion target these younger workers to help them avoid significant health problems down the road.

On several measures of healthy lifestyle, the older workers in the ComPsych study scored better than the younger workers—

• Healthy diets: 52% of workers in their 60s ate healthy diets, compared to 18% of employees in their 30s.

• Exercise: 27% of employees in their 50s exercised more than four days a week, compared to 20% of those in their 30s.

• Outlook on life: 83% of workers in their 60s reported a very positive outlook on life, compared to less than half (46%) of workers in their 30s.

• Stress: Less than a third (30%) of employees in their 60s said they had high stress levels, while almost two-thirds (65%) of those in their 30s reported high levels of stress.

Where employees are in their lives at these ages can partly explain these differences, according to ComPsych. Employees in their 30s are more likely to be in the midst of raising a family, which can add financial and time pressures that manifest themselves in more sedentary lifestyles, less healthy food choices and other negative, unhealthy behaviors. Since most people do follow the circle of life that places them squarely within such pressures during their 30s, employers should devote some attention to directing these employees to resources that can help them more effectively deal with this exciting but difficult time.

There are several ways to do this. Most companies’ health plans today include some types of wellness programs. Since younger workers are more receptive to new types of technology, make sure your wellness program communications include Web-based information, lifestyle quizzes, presentations, etc. Instead of simply communicating wellness program resources on paper, consider a CD or DVD presentation. When communicating on paper, use concise text and lots of graphics, so that materials aren’t tossed away as too time-consuming to read.

Use the same techniques for communicating the availability of the employee assistance program (EAP) and its resources. The stressors facing employees in their 30s can be abundant, with parenting young children, possibly dealing with aging parents, managing mortgage and credit card debt, etc. Stress can have a direct negative affect on one’s health. The often-overlooked EAP may be available to provide referrals for counseling for managing stress, as well as for financial issues. As with wellness programs, communicate the EAP through various media, including ways that target young, tech-savvy employees.

Your young employees may not be running up large medical bills today, but this will change as they age unless they begin to make the kinds of lifestyle decisions that bode for good health into their midlife and later years. Persuade them to tap into resources that can help them make healthy lifestyle changes sooner, rather than later.