Formula For Percent Change From One Year To The Next Wellness As a Business Strategy

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Wellness As a Business Strategy

Where Are Health Care Dollars Going?

Health care spending in the US has increased from $1,100 per person in 1980 to $7,900 in 2009. Currently $1.5 trillion, 75 percent of all health care spending, is spent on treating chronic diseases that are often preventable. Ninety-nine percent of all Medicare spending is associated with chronic diseases. Obesity and its complications (diabetes, cancer, and heart disease) are responsible for an estimated $147 billion in annual costs. Health care reform must address the needs of all Americans and significantly reduce costs. Failure to address this problem will prevent American companies from competing in the global marketplace, increase taxes, and damage our economy.

More than 130 million Americans suffer from chronic diseases and millions more are unnecessarily stunted. A report by the Partnership for Prevention suggests that effective use of just five preventative measures could save more than 100,000 lives a year. Eliminating just three risk factors – unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and smoking – could prevent 80 percent of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and 40 percent of all cancers in the US.

The Greatest Public Health Threat Our World Has Ever Faced

A recent study by Emory University revealed that obesity is the fastest growing problem our world has ever faced. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says the problem is caused by an environment that promotes overeating, unhealthy diets, and lack of exercise. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more which is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. For those of us who haven’t memorized metric conversions and can’t do the math in our heads, the US National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator.

The prevalence of obesity has increased from 12 percent in 1989 to 28 percent in 2010. If current trends continue, half of adults will be obese by 2020. The health care costs of obesity are expected to rise to $344 billion. 21 percent of the country’s spending on health (unless this is suspended (The Future Cost of Obesity, 2009). A 2009 report on obesity in America by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows obesity rates increased in 23 states and did not decrease in any state between 2008 and 2009. than before. 30 percent (Obesity Continues to Rise, 2009). Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine Prevention Research Center said: “It is the number one public health problem, which is causing many people to suffer from chronic diseases, especially the high risk of diseases. diabetes.” (The Future of Obesity, 2009).

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, smoking rates have decreased by 20 percent in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, any health benefits we may have realized from the reduction in smoking have been offset by obesity, which has increased by 48 percent over the same period (Mertens, 2009). What can we say? As a nation we fought against smoking as a public health threat. The numbers speak for themselves. We can do the same with the obesity epidemic.

Changing Trend

Raising public awareness of the dangers of this threat is a starting point but is not enough to provide the impetus for change. Ending the practice will require a global evidence-based campaign. Although there is no specific plan for organizing health programs, successful programs involve communities, schools, health systems, and workplaces. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) suggests that the following five factors are important:

  • Removing barriers and empowering Americans to take control of their health
  • Educating Americans to view obesity as a serious, life-threatening medical problem
  • Ensuring that the fear of weight stigma does not prevent the need to fight it
  • Reforming our health system to treat obesity as a preventable disease
  • Encouraging employers and communities to fund their efforts to promote good health (The Lewen Group, 2009)

Business Importance

US workers are the backbone of our economy. Employers are an important part of the solution to the current health problem and obesity epidemic. Businesses need ways to develop sustainable, flexible programs that work to improve employee health and reduce costs. Human Resource professionals have a unique opportunity to be instrumental in their organizations to train and support employees through programs that promote health. Well-designed programs can play an important role in changing the culture and controlling the obesity epidemic.

Employee absenteeism and absenteeism due to chronic illness have a significant impact on profitability. About 80 percent of workers have at least one chronic condition and 55 percent have more than one condition. Absenteeism is defined as work missed due to sick days. Presenteeism is defined as the loss of productivity due to employees who go to work but do not get paid due to illness. The economic fallout associated with absenteeism and absenteeism costs American 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, improve employee safety, strengthen corporate reputation, and fulfill social responsibility.

Success Stories

Many businesses have been ahead of the curve and are reaping the benefits of investing in employee wellness programs. IBM has saved $175 million by implementing wellness programs (Partnership for Prevention, 2007).

Lincoln Industries is a manufacturing facility with 565 employees. They have a comprehensive welfare program that benefits morale. One of the coveted employee rewards is a three-day, company-paid trip to climb a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. Lincoln has said that it spends about $2 million a year on medical services. They cost about $4,000 per employee. Additionally, employee benefits have been reduced by $360,000 per year. The ROI of this program is 5:1 (Construction2010).

In 2005 the Safeway grocery chain launched their Healthy Measures program. They are constantly changing every year. Safeway’s plan uses the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which allows for different payment options based on practice. CEO, Steven Burd emphasizes the key to successful plans and being profitable. Safeway is committed to building a culture of health and resilience by addressing behaviors associated with chronic diseases such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol (Burd, 2009). In the four years following its establishment, Safeway’s healthcare costs have not changed while most American companies have seen a 38 percent increase over the same four years. In addition to the Healthy Measures program, Safeway supports employee behavior by providing:

  • High quality fitness center near Safeway headquarters
  • Free lunch at the company cafeteria for every eight trips to the gym
  • A subsidized cafeteria, which offers a large amount of vegetables
  • Portion size, calorie count, cholesterol and fiber content are listed on all meals prepared in restaurants (Rodman & Gathright, 2009).

Programs that combine health culture with incentives that promote healthy behavior have proven to be more effective than traditional programs that have had a negative impact. Price Waterhouse Coopers found that less than 15 percent of eligible employees enroll in culturally appropriate programs. However, if they receive some type of incentive workers are twice or four times more likely to sign up. In a Suffolk University study 73 percent of Americans who were asked would change their behavior if they could save money (Donnelly, 2009).

Are You Leading Change?

As with any change, creating a culture of health and wellness for your organization will have its own unique challenges. However, the alternative is not pretty. Change is inevitable – growth is a choice. Your team will experience change, but the question is, will you be at the forefront of positive change or react when problems arise? American business leaders should have the opportunity to introduce a culture of health and wellness in their organizations not only because they are socially responsible, but because it is good for the bottom line. Employees who demonstrate a strong vision and desired behavior will have an advantage over those who sit back and wait to see what happens.

Jobs Listed

Burd, Steven A. “How the Defense Strategy Reduces Health Care Costs.” Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2009. Web. January 8, 2010.

Framework: Health Promotion ROI Consistent with Evidence-Based Programs. Rep. Atlanta: Institute for Advances in Policy Solutions, 2009. Web. January 4, 2010.

Donnelly, Julie. “Massaging workers’ health: Financial incentives change behavior, experts say.” Boston Business Journal (2009).

The Lewin Group, comp. Keeping America Healthy: Key Elements of Successful Programs. Rep. Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, June 2008. Web. 30 Dec. 2009.

Mertens, Maggie. “Obesity Epidemic Overrides Benefits of Smoking Cessation.” Website. NPR’s Health Blog. National Public Radio, 2 Dec. 2009. Web. January 11, 2010.

“Obesity Continues to Rise.” Forbes. HealthDay News, 1 July 2009. Web. January 12, 2010.

Rodman, Juliet, and Fiona Gathright. “Safeway’s Wellness Incentive Program”. Wellness Corporate Insights (Jan. 6, 2009). Wellness Corporate Solutions. 6 Jan. 2009. Web. January 11, 2010.

Trott, Bill, ed. “More Americans than ever are obese: CDC.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters 2009, 8 July 2009. Web. January 11, 2010.

United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association, and Partnership for Prevention. Future Costs of Obesity: A National and State Comparison of the Impact of Obesity on Direct Health Care Expenditures.. Rep. 2009. Print.

US Partnership for Prevention. National Commission on Prevention Priorities. Preventive Care: A National Profile of Services, Disparities, and Health Benefits. Defense Treaty, 7 Aug. 2007. Web. January 5, 2010.

US Workplace Wellness Alliance. The Coalition Against Chronic Diseases. 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. January 10, 2010.

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