Good Health Is Good for Business
THE annual cost of health care in the United States has skyrocketed to $400 billion, many times more than it was in the 1970’s! Not only do rising medical costs threaten the financial security of families but they also take a tremendous slice from business profits. For employee health-insurance premiums alone, businesses in the United States pay out over $80 billion a year!
Ford Motor Company, for example, estimates that during 1980 the cost of health care for employees added $290 to the price of each automobile. General Motors spends in a year more money on health insurance and disabilities than for steel from the USX Corporation (formerly U.S. Steel), one of its principal suppliers.
It is estimated that backaches alone are costing U.S. business firms $1 billion a year in lost productivity. Because of ailments such as this, as many as a million American workers fail to report for work each day. Especially devastating is heart disease. About 700,000 Americans—many in the prime of life—die of a heart attack every year while another 700,000 survive such an attack and may miss work for months afterward. The cost to business is tremendous.
“A single employee who undergoes quadruple [heart] bypass,” explains Dr. Richard H. Stein, “is going to cost the employer, depending on salary base, conceivably up to $100,000. An all-encompassing disease prevention program for an entire corporation could cost less. I think the possibility of reducing the burden for corporations makes good economic sense.”
Does Prevention Make Sense?
Much of the $400 billion health bill goes for ailments resulting from potentially controllable problems, such as being overweight, smoking, having high blood-cholesterol, and hypertension.
As you may be aware, most businesses invest in a maintenance program to keep their machinery in good working order. They do so because it makes good economic sense. What, then, about a program to prevent the breakdown of the health of their employees? Does it make sense?
‘Keeping healthy is the individual’s responsibility,’ an employer may argue. Yet in our modern, stressful society that fosters deplorable eating, drinking, and sleeping habits, not to mention a sedentary life-style and an emphasis on the use of medication, business firms are rethinking the matter.
In 1974 the Association for Fitness in Business was formed by two dozen industry fitness directors. Now the Association has over 3,500 members! The consensus is that a disease-prevention program does make sense—both economic and humanitarian sense.
Coping With Tragedy
Dr. John Bagshaw lamented: “There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing someone in your office, knowing they’re headed for trouble, advising them how to take better care of themselves, and then seeing no improvement—or, worse, seeing them in the hospital with a heart attack.”
The sad situation moved Dr. Bagshaw to make an adjustment in his medical practice and develop a disease-prevention program. That such a shift in emphasis makes sense is illustrated by a dream that another doctor said he had.
“I was standing by a river,” he reports, “and a man drifted by. He was drowning. So I jumped in, swam out to him, pulled him back to shore, gave him artificial respiration, and saved him. By then, another man was calling for help. So I jumped back in to save him, only to have more drowning men appear. Before long the riverbank was covered with people I’d saved. What made the dream memorable is I recall thinking ‘What I really need to do is to go upstream and find out who’s pushing all these people in.’”
Actually, people are pushing themselves in the doctor’s dream “river” by smoking, abusing drugs, eating improperly, and neglecting to exercise. This is confirmed by figures of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that show that of all deaths of people under 65, more than half are directly attributable to unhealthy life-styles.
Nevertheless, most American medicine is concerned primarily with the treatment of illness rather than its prevention. Unlike many other countries, the United States has given little attention to disease-prevention programs—until recently. Now even Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States, encourages learning from the programs of others.
“We are all aware of the fitness programs in Japanese companies,” he said. “A healthier work force means higher productivity. In the long run, it also means a reduction in the cost for employee health benefits.”
What Corporations Are Doing
Certain Japanese corporations have invested heavily in programs to protect the health of their employees, placing emphasis on physical exercise. The Nissan Motor Company, for example, has built a vast $41 million fitness center easily accessible both to its main factories and its head office. At the new head office of Tokyo Gas, the entire 27th floor has been made into a fitness center that includes even a running track.
Rather than building its own fitness facility, Nomura Securities, the large Japanese stockbroking firm, provides its employees tickets to the finest health clubs and urges that they make maximum use of them. NEC, the computers and electronics giant, stops its production lines twice a day so its employees can participate in isometric exercises.
In the past few years, many American companies have started making similar provisions for their employees, principally for their executives and those in white-collar jobs. Besides providing classes that feature guidance in proper nutrition and help for employees in stopping smoking, the General Foods Corporation included a sleek, in-house fitness center at its beautiful new corporate headquarters in Rye Brook, New York. The facility contains a squash court, a racquetball court, weight-training equipment, exercise bikes, and treadmills. And outside there is a jogging track amid pleasant surroundings. Supervisory personnel and an exercise physiologist regularly monitor the progress of members.
In 1979 Pepsico began a wellness program at its corporate headquarters in Purchase, New York. The program has since been put in operation in about a dozen of its other locations. The AT&T Communications Corporation has a similar program known as “Total Life Concept.” These company programs, besides monitoring physical exercise, include diet-weight management, nutrition instruction, and relaxation techniques.
Dr. Dennis L. Colacino, director of Pepsico’s program, noted that experts in various health fields are invited to give lectures to company employees on a wide range of health-related subjects. In the company cafeteria, he said, healthful eating is promoted by providing a calorie guide to the various foods. “We have a salad bar and a fruit bar. We make a choice available.” However, he emphasized: “We use exercise as our hub and driving force.”
Many other corporations do the same. Tenneco, the large United States oil and gas conglomerate, installed exercise facilities in 17 of its locations in a recent three-year period. Even certain small companies have made the provision of such facilities for their employees.
For example, Siegfried Tunger, owner of a business employing five persons, built a combination tennis-volleyball court next to his factory. For the last five years, the employees have played volleyball at the end of the workday. “The work we do can be monotonous at times,” Tunger explained. “It’s good to get out and move around—everyone looks forward to it.”
On the other hand, since it is expensive for smaller companies to have a really adequate fitness center, many pay, either in full or in part, for their employees to use nearby gyms or health clubs. In larger cities such fitness centers have recently been built to serve the needs of employees of a number of corporations situated in the area. According to Dr. Jerome Zuckerman, a promoter of this concept, “in the next ten to 15 years, the future of corporate fitness in the 50 largest cities in the country lies in the multicorporation fitness center.”
Is Exercise Really That Valuable?
Some people, however, question that regular exercise can actually ward off disease and improve an employee’s productivity. Yet evidence that it does continues to increase. Dr. Peter Lindner, a specialist in treating the overweight, notes: “Exercise has been shown to produce endorphins, natural brain chemicals which relieve depression and produce a sense of well-being.”
But besides simply making one feel better, regular exercise can actually make one healthier and hence more productive. It can even lengthen one’s life. Under The New York Times front-page heading “Study Indicates Moderate Exercise Can Add Years to a Person’s Life,” a feature article last March said:
“Men who participated in activities such as walking, stair-climbing and sports that used 2,000 calories or more a week had death rates one-quarter to one-third lower than those in the study [of nearly 17,000 Harvard alumni] who were least active.” And, significantly, the risk of death for such active men with high blood pressure was less than half that for inactive men with hypertension.
Director of the study, Dr. Ralph S. Paffenbarger, Jr., noted: “There are lots of skeptics who say people are active because they are healthy.” However, he emphasized: “You’re healthy because you’re active.”
This, too, seems to be the consensus at companies where fitness programs are being operated successfully. Of their program, Russ Cunningham, personnel manager at Pacific Gas & Electric, observed: “We think of it as an insurance policy against disaster.” And he added: “In our view, it has paid for itself several times over.” John Sculley, former president of Pepsi-Cola, a division of Pepsico, was quoted as saying: “Fitness is the department with the best return on investment.”
At Exxon, the huge oil company, a study of executives also confirmed the benefit of the fitness program. Three quarters of the participants were found to have experienced an enhanced sense of well-being, 29 percent lost weight, and 27 percent of the smokers quit smoking. Similarly, the Control Data Corporation determined that health-care costs for their personnel who regularly exercise were $115 less each year than for those who did not exercise.
A 1982 study at the University of Toronto, Canada, revealed that a company having a wellness or fitness program would save $233 annually in health costs for each participating employee. And a 1983 survey by the Health Research Institute showed that corporations sponsoring fitness programs paid $1,061 each year for health care for their employees while those without them paid $1,456. That is a 37-percent saving, or $395 per employee!
Realizing the benefit of wellness and fitness programs, many business firms are trying to get more of their personnel involved in them. But this is often not easy. Even though people may realize that they are endangering their lives by smoking, overdrinking, eating improperly, abusing drugs, and not exercising, it’s hard to get some to change their unhealthful life-styles.
Often less than 30 percent of a company’s employees take advantage of its fitness program. So to get more employees involved, some companies offer various incentives, including monetary rewards. For example, Hospital Corporation of America pays participants 24 cents for each mile (1.6 km) run or walked and for each quarter mile swum or four miles biked.
To discourage smoking, SpeedCall Corporation gives employees $7 a week for not smoking at work. Significantly, at the end of four years, the number of smokers had declined by 65 percent and the number of insurance claims filed by those who had quit smoking had dropped by 50 percent.
Important to the success of a company’s fitness program is its support by top management. If persons in positions of oversight exercise, others are more likely to do so. Dr. Lindner urges people not to begrudge the time spent exercising. “You’ll actually have more time,” he says, “because the exercise gives you so much energy that you’ll accomplish more work in a shorter period.”
What You Can Do
Regardless of whether you work for a company that has a fitness program or not, you may be motivated to begin exercising. However, a word of caution. If you have not done so for some time, take it slowly. Too much at one time can do more harm than good.
Also, thinking that you can engage in vigorous exercise on a weekend without exercising during the week can even be fatal. Dr. Lawrence Power noted: “Too many people drop dead around the weekend. One study indicates that 26 percent of sudden deaths occur on Mondays and 25 percent on Saturdays. That’s half the week’s deaths in two days.”
To be a real health benefit, exercise must be practiced regularly, preferably three or more times a week for a period of 20 to 30 minutes or more each time. Making a regular habit of walking is a fine way to begin. One doctor explained: “Vigorous walking, if practiced from youth on, would in itself drastically reduce the disability and early deaths due to coronary heart disease.”
Since the good health of employees is good for business firms, the good health of its members certainly is good for the family. As family heads, therefore, why not encourage some form of regular exercise, especially if you, your wife, or your children spend a lot of time watching television or in other nonphysical activity. Regular exercise will be good for the whole family.
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Japanese companies provide facilities such as these for their employees
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Exercising regularly is also good for the family