The Growing Spotlight on Employee Health

It seems that everyone—including government, the private sector and consumers—has finally woken up to the healthcare crisis facing our country. As we are all now painfully aware, healthcare costs are spiraling out of control due to many factors, but certainly in large measure because of the worsening health status of the average American.

An indisputable root cause of the imperiled health of Americans today is obesity. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, speaking recently at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, DC, projects that as many as 42% of Americans will be obese by the year 2030 if current trends continue. And with rampant obesity come the most prevalent and costly chronic diseases plaguing Americans—namely diabetes and heart disease.

And what does obesity and related chronic disease mean to American employers and their employees?  From the employer’s standpoint, obesity alone results in the direct costs associated with medical care (estimated at $140 billion annually), as well as the indirect costs associated with absenteeism and lost productivity (estimated at another $150 billion annually).

From the employee’s standpoint, obesity generates an additional $160 billion in direct costs to consumers—in the form of extra food costs, larger size clothing, weight loss programs, out-of-pocket health care costs, etc.—not to mention the lifestyle challenges and frequent unhappiness associated with being overweight and chronically ill.

The good news is that many instances of obesity and related chronic disease are preventable, simply though improved nutrition and regular exercise. Employers are beginning to recognize that they can curb increases in the cost of health care, or even reduce costs, by encouraging employees to adopt healthier behaviors. One tangible example in the recent past has been employer-driven smoking cessation programs, which have proven to be quite successful in reducing both the incidence of smoking and related healthcare costs.

The next critically important frontier for employers is healthier eating. If employees can be encouraged, motivated and incentivized to make healthier food choices, and to consume less food in general, the direct result will be improved health status as well as a reduction in the healthcare costs borne by both the employer and the employee.

Guiding Stars is a natural fit for employers seeking to improve employee food choices.  An obvious first step is to consider implementing the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program in the cafeteria—as has been done in corporate cafeterias, college dining halls and hospital cafeterias in a variety of locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Guiding Stars at MaineGeneral
Guiding Stars at MaineGeneral

Beyond nutrition guidance in the cafeteria, Guiding Stars is now developing the next generation of online and mobile tools to support healthier food choices by employees anytime and anywhere. Generically referred to as the “Guiding Stars Healthy Eating Program,” these tools allow consumers to create healthy shopping lists they can use anywhere, have access to healthy recipes and share shopping lists and recipes as well as other information with fellow employees and family members in a robust social environment.

There will be more exciting news to come as the “Guiding Stars Healthy Eating Program” is deployed with a major health plan and a large multi-state employer later in 2012!  Stay tuned!

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