Workplace wellness could trim down Hoosiers
September 7, 2012
by Rob Hillman
Hoosier native son David Letterman popularized his humorous "top 10" lists many years ago. The audience has come to expect the countdown, and the punch lines always get a lot of laughs.
Indiana made a top 10 list recently. But, unlike Letterman's lists, this one isn't very funny.
The Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that shows Indiana has the eighth-highest obesity rate in the country. Actually, we've been toward the bottom of this particular health measure for several years now.
Not only does obesity lead to chronic illness and diminished quality of life, it takes a severe financial toll on all of us:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts have estimated that medical-relatedcosts of obesity may be as high as $147 billion a year, or roughly 9 percent of all medical expenditures.
An obese person costs an average of $1,400 more in medical expenses a year than someone who is at a healthy weight.
Here's the good news: Obesity is preventable. Experts tell us that about 85 percent of health conditions are self-inflicted and can be prevented by eating better, exercising more and quitting smoking. But it's time we start preventing: One recent study predicts that obesity could affect 42 percent of Americans by 2030.
If we don't address this problem, costs will rise out of sight for employers, who provide approximately 168 million Americans with health insurance. Indeed, costs will rise for anyone who pays a healthinsurance premium, a co-pay or coinsurance.
So where do we start? It's not a cure-all, but maybe a simple workplace wellness program like what we introduced at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield a few years ago, might be adopted by other businesses.
We have an annual contest known as the Fitness Challenge, a program that encourages our 4,500 Indiana employees to be physically active and commit to 30 minutes of cardiovascular or strength training most days of the week for 10 weeks. This year, more than 1,000 of our employees ramped up and amped up their workouts and made physical activity a regular part of their day. Maybe it will become a healthy habit for a lifetime.
And there's a domino effect. Wellness is contagious. It's what Anthem calls the health footprint: When I take better care of myself, the people I come into contact with are more likely to do the same.
In my 30 years in the health industry, I've learned that when employers commit to helping their employees improve their health it not only increases employee productivity and morale, it also decreases health-care costs for both the employer and the employee.
When tackling big problems, sometimes it's best to start small. Maybe it's starting a simple workplace wellness program, providing employees with access to a nurse hotline, nutrition counseling, health screenings, smoking cessation programs or discounts to fitness centers.
Businesses across the state can lead the way to help improve Hoosiers' health and lower their health-care costs. It's time we take steps to ensure that Indiana's waistline will no longer be somebody's punch line.
Hillman is president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana.
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