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Wellness As a Business Strategy
Where Are Health Care Dollars Going?
American health care costs have increased from $1,100 per person in 1980 to $7,900 in 2009. Currently $1.5 trillion, or 75 percent of all health care spending, is devoted to medicine in chronic diseases that cannot be prevented. Ninety-nine percent of all Medicare dollars spent are related to illness. Obesity and complications (diabetes, cancer, and heart disease) are responsible for $147 billion a year. Health care reform must focus on coverage for all Americans and reducing costs. Ignoring this situation will make it impossible for American companies to compete in the global market, increase taxes, and weaken our economy.
More than 130 million Americans suffer from chronic disease and millions of lives are cut short unnecessarily. The Partnership for Prevention report suggests that better use of five prevention services could save more than 100,000 lives each year. Eliminating just three risk factors – poor diet, inactivity, and smoking – can prevent 80 percent of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and 40 percent of All cancers in the US
The Largest Public Health Experiment Our Nation Has Ever Seen
A recent study conducted by Emory University found obesity to be the greatest health challenge facing our nation. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) points the problem to environments that promote increased food consumption, unhealthy foods, and lack of physical activity. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more and is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. For those of us who haven’t memorized the measurements and can’t do the math in our heads, the US National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator.
Obesity rates have increased from 12 percent in 1989 to 28 percent in 2010. If current trends continue, half of the adult population will be obese by 2020. The direct health care costs for obesity will rise to $344 billion (21 percent of the nation’s direct health care expenditures) if current trends are not stopped (Future Costs of Interest, 2009). A 2009 report on obesity in the United States published by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicates that the obesity rate has increased for 23 states and has not decreased for some states between the years. 2008 to 2009. Obesity rates among children have risen to an all-time high. 30 percent (Obesity Continues to Rise, 2009). According to Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine Prevention Research Center, “It is a serious public health problem of the first order, which drives many forms of disease. disease, especially the rising rates of diabetes.” (The Future Costs of Obesity, 2009).
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, smoking rates have dropped 20 percent in the past 15 years. However, the health benefits that should be recognized from the decline in smoking have been offset by an increase in obesity by 48 percent over the same period (Mertens, 2009). What do we decide? As a nation we focused on smoking as a health threat. The numbers speak for themselves. We can do the same thing with obesity.
Back the trend
Raising public awareness of the seriousness of this threat is a start but is not enough to generate enthusiasm for change. Reversing the trend will require a national campaign that involves evidence-based approaches. Although there is no specific model for health program design, successful programs include community, schools, health care systems, and workplace interventions. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) recommends the following five steps:
- Removing barriers and empowering Americans to take control of their health
- Educating Americans to see obesity as a serious health problem
- Ensuring that the fear associated with obesity does not lose the will to fight
- Reforming our health care system to treat obesity as a medically preventable disease
- Engaging employers and communities to invest in promoting well-being (The Lewen group, 2009)
American workers are the backbone of our economy. Employers are an important part of the solution to the health care and obesity crisis. Businesses need strategies for developing sustainable, adaptable programs to improve employee health and reduce costs. Human Resources professionals are uniquely positioned to act as agents within their organizations to educate and support employees through initiatives that promote wellness. Properly designed health programs can play an important role in cultural change and turning the tide on obesity.
Employee absenteeism and absenteeism due to chronic illness can have a negative impact on productivity. About 80 percent of workers have at least one disease, and 55 percent have more than one disease. Absenteeism is defined as work lost due to illness. The manifestation is the loss of productivity due to employees who report to work but have low productivity due to illness. The loss of economic productivity associated with absenteeism and absenteeism costs businesses $1 trillion annually (US Workplace Wellness Alliance, 2009). Health programs can improve employee morale, improve productivity, reduce absenteeism, attract and retain employees, reduce costs, and improve safety. of employees, promoting corporate image, and fulfilling social responsibilities.
Many businesses are ahead of the curve and are seeing a return on their investment in employee wellness programs. IBM has saved $175 million dollars through the implementation of wellness programs (Partnership for Prevention, 2007).
Lincoln Industries is a manufacturing plant with 565 employees. They have many wellness programs that emphasize behaviors. One of the rewards that employees need is a three-day, company-paid trip to climb a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. Lincoln has reported $2 million in annual savings on health care costs. It costs about $4,000 per employee. In addition, workers’ compensation costs have been reduced by $360,000 per year. The ROI for this project is 5:1 (Design Issues2010).
In 2005 the grocery chain Safeway implemented their Health Measures program. They have been improving every year. Safeway’s plan uses a provision in the Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 that allows for cost-sharing based on behavior. According to CEO, Steven Burd, the key to successful plans lies in effective behavior. Safeway is committed to creating a culture of health and fitness by addressing behaviors associated with chronic diseases such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol (Burd, 2009). In the four years following implementation, Safeway’s health care costs remained flat while most US companies experienced a 38 percent cost increase over a four-year period. In addition to the Healthy Measures program, Safeway supports employee behaviors by offering:
- A new fitness center near Safeway headquarters
- Free lunch at the company restaurant for eight trips to the gym
- It’s an affordable restaurant, with many vegetarian options
- Portion size, calorie count, cholesterol and fiber are posted for all ready meals at a restaurant (Rodman & Gathright, 2009).
Programs that combine a culture of wellness with incentives that reward healthy behavior have been shown to be significantly more effective than traditional lifestyle programs that have poorer attrition rates. Price Waterhouse Coopers found that less than 15 percent of eligible employees participate in wellness programs. However, if they receive some kind of incentive they are two to four times more likely to engage employees. In another Suffolk University study 73 percent of Americans surveyed would change their behavior if they could save money (Donnelly, 2009).
Are you leading change?
As with any change program, creating a health and wellness culture for your organization presents unique challenges. However, the difference is not pretty. Change is irreversible–growth is optional. Your organization will experience change, but the question is will you be the first to lead positive change or react to a problem after it explodes? America’s business leaders need to take the opportunity to start a culture of health and wellness in their organizations that is not only socially responsible, but good for the bottom line. Managers who show strong vision and model the desired behaviors have a distinct advantage over those who sit back and wait to see what happens.
Burd, Steven A. “How the Safe Place Cuts Health Care Costs.” Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2009. Web. 8 January 2010.
Design Matters: Health Promotion ROI Is Closely Linked to Program-Based Support. Rep. Atlanta: Institute for Advances in Policy Solutions, 2009. Web. 4 January 2010.
Donnelly, Julie. “Massaging workers’ health: Financial incentives change behaviors, experts say.” Boston Business Writing (2009).
The Lewin Group, comp. Keep America Alive: Essential Elements of Successful Programs. Rep. Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, June 2008. Web. 30 December 2009.
Mertens, Maggie. “Obesity negates the consequences of smoking.” Web blog post. NPR’s Health Blog. National Radio, 2 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 January 2010.
“Obesity rates continue to rise.” Forbes. HealthDay News, 1 July 2009. Web. 12 January 2010.
Rodman, Juliet and Fiona Gathright. “Safeway’s Life Promotion Program.” Wellness Corporate Insights (6 January 2009). Live Corporate Medicine. 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 January 2010.
Trott, Bill, ed. “More Americans Than Ever Are Obese: CDC.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters 2009, 8 July 2009. Web. 11 January 2010.
United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association, and Partnership for Prevention. The Costs of Obesity: National and State Estimates of the Impact of Obesity on Health Care Expenditures. Rep. 2009. Print.
US Partnership for Prevention. National Commission on Fundamentals. Preventive Care: A National Overview of Use, Risks, and Health Benefits. Partnership for Prevention, 7 Aug. 2007. Web. 5 January 2010.
US Workplace Wellness Alliance. Uniting to Fight Chronic Disease. The Burden of Chronic Disease on US Business and Competitiveness. By Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD., Anthony C. Wisniewski, and Garry M. Lindsay. 2009 Almanac of Chronic Disease, 2009. Web. 10 January 2010.
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