Jeff Ruby, Founder & CEO of Newtopia, is a health innovator with an extensive entrepreneurial track record in preventive health and author of a number of thought leadership articles on disease prevention and workplace wellness. Recently, his health engagement startup Newtopia released results of a successful randomized control trial with Aetna. In this guest Point of View, Ruby draws a link between the reduction of metabolic syndrome among employees and the reduction of employee healthcare spending costs:
If more than a third of your workforce diminished your returns by producing less and costing more, would you address the situation?
In America it is estimated that at least 1 in every 3 adults has the medical condition referred to as Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), and it is likely that your employee demographic reflects a similar stat. Each employee with metabolic syndrome costs 60% more than a healthy employee in annual employee healthcare costs.
MetS is a cluster of risk factors identified when any three of the following five risk factors are present:
- A large waist circumference
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL “good” cholesterol
For an individual, it is essential to gain awareness of this condition, since it more than doubles your risk of heart disease, triples your risk of mortality related to heart disease, and increases your risk of diabetes fivefold.
For an employer, mindfulness of the presence of metabolic syndrome in your workforce is equally important as it is a leading indicator of rising annual employee healthcare costs.
In 2010, direct healthcare spending to treat high blood pressure irrespective of other metabolic syndrome risk factors cost $42.9 billion, half in the form of prescription drugs. The annual employee healthcare expenditure at this time averaged $733 per adult per year.
Lipitor, a statin drug prescribed for cholesterol abnormalities, was the most prescribed drug in the country. In 2005 statins as a whole were the top-selling class of drugs with 144.5 million prescriptions.
In 2010, the total cost of heart disease and stroke was estimated to be $315.4 billion, according to the American Heart Association. Diabetes, the inevitable result of prolonged high blood sugar, cost employers $245 billion in 2012, with $176 billion related to direct medical costs, and $69 billion in reduced employee productivity.
All of the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, as well as all the disease states that are likely to follow within a short period of time are heavily influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors. As a result, the last decade has been inundated with research directed toward workplace wellness programs that address these aspects.
Successful workplace wellness programs are not one-size fits all; they are personalized to the individual and emphasize education targeting nutrition, level of activity, the cessation of smoking, and better stress and behavior management, with the main goal aiming to lower rates of obesity and high waist circumference.
Evidence demonstrates that a body weight reduction of only 5-10% is enough to improve all five MetS risk factors and significantly reduce high blood pressure and lower or even eliminate the need for prescription drugs, extra medical visits, and absenteeism.
It has also been concluded that weight loss was the dominant predictor of reduced diabetes incidence, one study noting that every kilogram of weight loss, resulted in a 16% reduction in risk. With regards to abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride profiles the same applies - weight loss via wholesome nutrition, increased activity, and behavior management is key.
Rates of metabolic syndrome and resulting employee healthcare costs are on the rise, and expected to increase to epidemic proportions. Some 79% of employees currently have one out of range MetS risk factor. It is clear that having a vested interest in preventing MetS by adopting a workplace wellness program is both essential and strategic.