It has been interesting to watch the emphasis in healthcare switch from reaction to prevention, where we are now seemingly bombarded with information on how to lose weight, reduce risk of chronic disease, and live healthier lives. And while the majority of the responsibility falls on the individual, many businesses have begun to look at the benefits of offering health, wellness and fitness programs to their employees as an incentive to stay healthy.
In researching this entry, I was fascinated by the Milken Institute study published in 2007. Clearly, many of the ideas advocated by the authors have become more commonplace in the last 4 years. Whether they help people live longer, healthier lives and businesses reduce loss from lower productivity remains to be seen.
Wellness @ work
The workplace has shifted in the last few decades. More and more of us are sitting in front of screens instead of doing manual labor, burning fewer calories than preceding generations. Studies have shown that even if people exercise, sitting for extended periods of time can lead to higher chances of chronic illness like heart disease. And so we sit and expand, and face a growing obesity crisis.
In 2007, the Milken Institute published a study on the economic burden of chronic disease. Evaluating the cost of seven of the most common chronic diseases, the authors estimated the cost of these diseases at $1.3 trillion annually. Within that figure, between sick days and “presenteeism” (those that come to work but are still sick), lost productivity accounts for $1.1 trillion. The study states, “Plainly, absenteeism and lower productivity on the job linked to chronic disease are major factors limiting economic growth and reducing living standards.”
But all hope is not lost. The study also looked at preventing these chronic illnesses. Their data suggested
- “that modest reductions in avoidable factors — unhealthy behavior, environmental risks, and the failure to make modest gains in early detection and innovative treatment — will lead to 40 million fewer cases of illness and a gain of over $1 trillion annual in labor supply and efficiency by 2023.”
The study concludes that “there needs to be a strong, long-term commitment to promote health and wellness.”