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Health Pays Long Term Dividends

Editor's Note: Strategies columns feature businesspeople in the Twin Cities sharing advice for growing companies.

Many companies' fiscal years coincide with the calendar year end. For most of us, now is a time to take stock and carefully review these annual reports. Did the company meet its projections? How healthy is the balance sheet? Are revenues, margins and earnings on track? These are all very important measurements of fiscal health for corporate America and for all of us as employers, employees and investors.

Unquestionably, the only thing more important to us than our financial well-being is our own physical health. Here is a report card on the state of health and fitness levels in America at this point in 2004. It does not present a very healthy picture:

> We are the most overweight nation on earth. The CDC reported that our biggest health threat and an important cause of soaring health care costs is obesity - 31 percent of Americans are obese and another 33 percent of us are overweight. The latest studies show a steady increase in portion size, so the typical American is eating more at one sitting than ever before. And a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that overweight and obesity-related illnesses alone now cost the country $117 billion a year.


> Health care premiums are sky-rocketing in double-digit rate increases, and private employers and their employees account for approximately 60 percent of those expenditures. Weight is a factor in this equation, and recent research shows that overweight and obese people incur up to SI ,500 more in annual medical bills.The American Obesity Association reports that the health risks for 30 separate medical conditions increase significantly for overweight and obese individuals.

>The rising cost of health care and prescription drugs remains front and center on the national agenda. Despite what weight loss and smoking-cessation ads may promise, there is no quick miracle cure for the poor health condition of so many Americans. What is certain is that promoting the importance of proper health and fitness levels can have a positive impact.

The American Obesity Association reports the health risks for 30 medical consitions increase significantly for overweight and obese individuals.

Maintaining proper fitness levels is becoming more recognized as a legitimate way of affecting health care services and thereby reducing health premium costs. The International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association is sponsoring

legislation to make employer-sponsored membership dues to health clubs tax deductible, and companies continue to add onsite physical activity programs.
Corporate America is no idle bystander in regard to health and fitness initiatives. From primary research commissioned in 2002, we know that about half of the companies in America employing at least 1,000 people at one location have an onsite fitness center. And more companies are planning to add this benefit in the future. Companies offer onsite centers for these reasons:

Concern for controlling health care costs

  • Recruiting and retention of employees
  • Creating a positive work environment
  • Reducing stress on workforce
  • Maintaining a healthy and productive workforce

The same research also substantiated the growth in employer-offered, we 11 ness-related program offerings such as health screenings, tobacco cessation and weight-management services.
The good news is whether your organization has an onsite center or not, health-related program offerings are something that employers of all sizes can offer to employees to make a difference in the bottom line. A good place to start is with your medical provider or your employee assistance provider.

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