Chronic diseases threaten economyNews added by Benefits Pro on June 20, 2014

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By Dan Cook

Generally unhealthy American workers – prone to chronic illness – cost employers billions in health care spending. Yet, these same employers are doing little to address these issues.

That’s the conclusion of a year-long research project sponsored by the Vitality Institute, which reviewed existing data on chronic disease prevention programs, crunched the data, commissioned research papers, and finally conducted a series of forums to gather feedback.

Based on the research, Vitality identified high-performing, evidence-based health promotion and chronic disease prevention methods that, it estimated, could save the United States up to $303 billion in annual health care costs if adopted by businesses and government agencies.

“Preventable chronic diseases such as lung cancer, diabetes and heart disease are forcing large numbers of people to exit the workforce prematurely due to their own poor health or to care for sick relatives,” said William Rosenzweig, chair of the Vitality Institute Commission. “Yet private employers spend less than 2 percent of their total health budgets on prevention. This trend will stifle America’s economic growth for decades to come unless health is embraced as a core value in society.”

The researchers’ recommendations include:
  • Require corporations to integrate health metrics into their annual reporting by 2025;

  • Secure commitments from more than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies to include workforce health as part of their organizational strategy by 2020;

  • Increase federal government funding for prevention science research by at least 10 percent by 2017 and create a federal agency to fund efforts that support health and prevention.
The full report, which is available here, offers nearly 50 examples of chronic disease prevention programs already implemented by some employers and government agencies. These programs, Vitality said, “are successfully increasing the availability of nutritious food, leading to the development of healthy products and promoting exercise.

“As a nation, we need to address the unsustainable economic and societal burden of chronic diseases, and the Commission’s report details exactly how to achieve that goal,” said Derek Yach, MBChB, MPH, the executive director of the Vitality Institute. “We urge policy makers and business leaders to adopt these recommendations and enact these initiatives in order to better care for our country’s most important resource – a healthy workforce.”

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