Chronic disease will account for 2/3 of all deaths globally in the next 25 years.

“We have to move from illness to wellness. Businesses will have to invest in wellness. There is no choice. It’s not philanthropy. It’s enlightened self-interest,” according to Shrinivas Shanbhag, the Medical Adviser at Reliance Industries in India.

A new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the World Economic Forum, Working Towards Wellness: The Business Rationale, details the future of chronic disease to 2030. Globally, today’s emerging BRIC economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China — will lose millions of productive life-years due to the sorts of chronic conditions that today plague the U.S.

The #1 culprit is metabolic syndrome, the combination of obesity and other health risks, which results in a 2 to 9 times higher prevalence of chronic disease. The conditions that flow from metabolic syndrome include hypertension, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon).

Why should business follow Mr. Shanbhag’s advice, stated above as thought written by Adam Smith himself?

Because productivity losses associated with employees who have chronic disease can cost 400% more than health costs for healthy workers.

There are four impacts that directly affect employers: presenteeism, absenteeism, disability (short- and long-term) and direct medical costs.

The economic burden of disease would crowd out resources that will be sorely needed between now and 2030 for economic development, public health, environmental management, and peace initiatives.

PwC and the World Economic Forum recommend that business, globally, raise health and wellness to the executive suite. Wellness goals should be integrated with overall business strategy, which is a tactic currently used at Cadbury Schweppes (which demerged this month into Cadbury and the Dr. Pepper Snapple group)on a corporate level. Work environments should support a culture of wellness from the food provided in company cafeterias to “pedometer” challenges in multi-level buildings.

Interventions should be targeted particularly to metabolic syndrome. Employees should be given incentives that attract them to participate, including work-life balance programs that encourage healthy living and direct financial incentives.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:
Across the OECD countries, only 3% of health costs go to prevention. Yet we are well aware that once a person develops a chronic condition, it is much more expensive and difficult to reverse. It appears that the developed world is exporting sick-care medical systems to the developing world. This is a prescription for global health financing implosion — in addition to the extraordinarily negative impacts on business on a global basis.