Monday, August 31, 2009

A Class to Prevent Disease?

I was listening to the Today Show this morning, as I do every morning, to keep up on current events. Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Cheif Medical Editor for NBC reported some interesting statistics about chronic illness and how some major companies are trying to deal with it.

60% of the reported bankruptcies in 2007 were derived from an illness that needed extensive medical care.

75% of medical costs today are from a chronic illness. These costs are from a patients lifestyle and are from four main factors: smoking, inactivity, stress, and/or food choices.

40% of premature deaths in the US are from poor lifestyle choices.

2.5 trillion dollars is the projected spending for health care in the US for 2009.

These statistics are pretty astounding to me. It's truly hard for me to grasp at the fact that chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, are running so rampant in the United States that it is overwhelming the health care industry. It's also astounding that people are continuing down a dangerous path by not doing what they need to do to take care of themselves properly.

Places like the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic are trying some interesting approaches to drive down these overwhelming costs. And are succeeding. The Cleveland Clinic has developed a program called Lifestyle 180. It teaches everything from how to reduce stress to cooking lessons.

This program has become so successful that businesses are now looking into enrollment for their employees. Some businesses have come to the conclusion that if they invest in their employees' health, the employee will call out less, be happier in their work environment, and perform better. All of these will effect the company's' bottom line positively. In fact, some businesses like the Cleveland Clinic, will not hire an employee that smokes. Smokers statistically call out more due to health issues and places like the Cleveland Clinic want to drive down costs by eliminating these types of factors in the workforce.

Dr. Synderman believes that this type of thinking will branch out nationwide through all types of businesses. She went on further to state that some employers may go as far as trying to either help out their obese associates, or possibly not hire someone due to their obese issues. Not all states can go this far because some states in the US believe it is unconstitutional to take a person's health into consideration with employment. Every state law is different and you may want to check out the views of yours.

Having said all of this, I'm not sure if this will really help the individual in leading a healthy lifestyle, though. If a person has a choice between a job that won't hire smokers v. someone who will, it might not make that much of an impact for them. I know that when I was a smoker it was hard to quit. I tried on 12 separate occasions during the 10 years I smoked, to quit. I only quit for good after I decided to do it for myself. When I wanted to quit for my family, I failed miserably, so in my opinion, quiting for a job may not necessarily work for everyone.

I do believe that a lifestyle program is a good idea, however. A program like this helps people because it not only teaches people how to eat healthy by reading labels, it gives them ways to cook healthy by providing them with a cooking class.

People also like to have support when they are trying to change for the better. A class will allow the individual some camaraderie and it's comforting to know they will have someone to lean on during the tough times of change.

Learning ways to relieve stress is also great in a class environment because it allows the individual to get away from stress triggers for a little while. I know that that may sound only like a quick fix, but having even just a few minutes that are stress free does wonders for the mind and body. Some techniques that you can learn are also portable enough to take to work with you too.

I remember a time when I was younger where people actually took a scheduled 5 minute break to do some stretching to ease tension. And this wasn't just for school, it was prevalent in the work place too. Of course, that was in the early 80's and 90's, what seems like a lifetime ago, but it was common place back then.

The turn of century has changed people's mindset and most don't take the timeout to do simple stretching anymore. They just don't have the time because the employer's pressure to perform is too great. I am amazed at how much companies ask of their employees. It can be pretty sickening, especially if the pay is mediocre. Most employers expect their associates to perform tasks that were once done by 2-3 associates, sometimes more. This can be discouraging and cause a good amount of stress for anyone put in this position.

I am all for a change in the way we try and prevent disease in this country. Let's hope that a lot more employers get on board and tackle expenses in a positive way as opposed to the negative way I've seen. A tongue lashing followed by performance write ups won't change business expense. It only creates more of an expense due to turnover. Perhaps change instead of waste is indeed needed.

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