CDC Diabetes Numbers Show Importance of Corporate Wellness Programs
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
The revelation in late October that as many as one-third of all U.S. adults could suffer from diabetes by 2050 reinforces the importance of implementing wellness programs at home and at work.
The diabetes estimates were issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which also stressed--perhaps even more disturbingly--that the disease is easily preventable through a change in diet and more exercise.
"Health is an action verb, not a spectator sport," said Dr. Ronald Loeppke, a member of the Board of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and an expert on preventive medicine.
Left unchecked, diabetes and the complications from the disease are rapidly turning into an economic issue for Corporate America, he said. Future costs to employers, insurers and the government will be staggering.
The diabetic and prediabetic population already presents 40 percent to 45 percent of the total costs of a typical health carrier's commercial book of business, said Tom Beauregard, executive vice president of the UnitedHealth Group Center for Health Reform & Modernization.
"If we control and avoid the diabetes crisis, we can make premiums more affordable, particularly in light of health reform and if we want to make access sustainable," Beauregard said.
STILL TIME TO ACT
Employers with robust wellness and disease prevention programs are leading these control efforts and should continue with those programs.
"Not only is it the right thing to do but there's a business case for them," Loeppke said.
Loeppke also said that it is "imperative" for employers to focus on leveraging the benefits of better health rather than managing the cost of health benefits, and the good news is that there is still time to do something about what he agreed was a "tsunami" of economic costs and medical complications from the disease.
A recent Integrated Benefits Institute survey of health and productivity management practices among big companies, for example, found that 70 percent of respondents offered health risk assessments, 71 percent offered nutrition education and 75 percent offered smoking cessation programs.
In addition, 68 percent of companies surveyed indicated they would increase the financial resources available for one or more health and productivity management initiatives, said Dr. Thomas Parry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute.
According to Beauregard, separate surveys have found that people suffering from diabetes and prediabetes were also extremely or very likely to join a diabetes prevention and control program.
The CDC report paints a sobering picture of the spread of the disease. It predicts that at current rates, the number of new diabetes cases each year will increase from eight per 1,000 people in 2008, to 15 per 1,000 in 2050.
The report also estimates that the number of Americans with diabetes will range from one in five to one in three by 2050, depending on the number of people who develop diabetes, and how long they live after developing it.
In a statement issued with the CDC's latest findings, Ann Albright director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, said the numbers were "alarming."
Beauregard said that the new numbers don't come as much of a surprise, "but the prevalence and the growth rates are shocking; 90 percent of prediabetics don't even know they are at risk."
Obesity is a precursor to diabetes, and with as many as 31.7 percent of all children between the ages of two and 19 years old being overweight, the importance of stemming the tide now can't be underestimated, the experts said.
UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest health insurers in the country, plans to launch a childhood obesity intervention program in January 2011 in Rhode Island.
November 1, 2010
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