Addressing Chronic Disease Makes Good Business Sense

May 13, 2008 ( - The progression of chronic disease is occurring despite the fact the diseases are largely preventable, and this threatens the sustainability of businesses globally.

This was the theme of a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) presenting the rationale for workplace wellness programs. The report noted that chronic disease is the prime cause of lost work time in the working-age population.

According to PwC, organizations have a clear interest in the prevention of chronic disease for four main reasons:

  • Chronic Disease Drives Health Care Costs – In the U.S., people with chronic disease account for more than 75% of the nation’s $ 2 trillion in medical spending, PwC noted in the report. Whether health care is financed by employers, individuals, or social programs, the impact of chronic disease is placing an increasing burden on health systems, taxes, and costs of coverage, which in turn burdens organizations and their employees.
  • Productivity Losses Associated with Chronic Disease are Even Greater than Medical Costs – Productivity losses associated with workers with chronic disease are as much as 400% more than the cost of treating chronic disease, according to the report. Losses in productivity include disability, unplanned absences, reduced workplace effectiveness, increased accidents, and negative impacts on work quality or customer service.
  • Workplace Wellness Efforts Can Positively Impact Human Capital Investments – Organizations that invest an average of $290 in labor costs generate $1,000 in revenue, according to PwC. By helping employees work longer and have more productive lives, organizations can protect this asset in the face of growing labor shortages globally. In addition, an organization that shows through wellness initiatives that it values its workers is more likely to attract, retain, and motivate employees.
  • Sustainability is Threatened by the Epidemic of Chronic Disease – As the economic burden of chronic disease grows, it could crowd out money needed to improve other critical issues as well as to meet basic needs such as education and infrastructure in both industrialized and emerging economies. According to the report, any drag on the growth of emerging economies can threaten the vitality of a highly interdependent global ecosystem which in turn can threaten the sustainability of already burdened social security systems in industrialized societies.

The PwC report went on to say that chronic disease can be prevented and its effects mitigated through modification of lifestyle choices, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition. Additionally, the report notes that other studies have shown that risk factors in general are cumulative in nature and that people with multiple risk factors are more likely to have higher health care costs.

“In addition, there is evidence that health risks that are addressed by means of an effective strategy focused on health promotion can reduce costs, even in the absence of disease,” the report said.

The report, Working Towards Wellness: The Business Rationale, is here .