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Department of Health and Human Services
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News Release

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2003

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Secretary Thompson To Meet With Business Executives To Share Prevention Strategies

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today released a new report highlighting the significant economic toll that preventable diseases take on businesses, workers and the nation. The report highlights the importance for employers to make health promotion part of their business strategy.

The report comes as Secretary Thompson prepares to host a prevention roundtable discussion with more than a dozen executives from major U.S. corporations. Today's meeting will allow top government and business leaders to discuss the urgency of rising health care costs, an aging population and prevention priorities as well as to share strategies for the public and private sectors to better address these issues.

"The choices we make about diet, activity and tobacco affect not only our own lives, but also affect the economic health of our families, our businesses and even our nation as a whole," Secretary Thompson said. "More businesses need to recognize that poor health means lower productivity and higher health insurance costs. Smart business leaders increasingly are finding that it is the right decision to promote health education, physical activity and preventive benefits in the workplace."

The new HHS report summarizes key research findings about the prevalence and cost of chronic diseases where prevention and health management can make a difference -- including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and asthma. Individual choices that lead to overweight and obesity, lack of physical activity and smoking greatly increase the risk of these diseases.

The report highlights recent research showing the dramatic impact of chronic, preventable illnesses have on business' bottom line:

  • Obesity-related health problems cost U.S. businesses an estimated $13 billion in 1994, including about $8 billion in health insurance costs, $2.4 billion for sick leave, $1.8 billion for life insurance and nearly $1 billion for disability insurance.
  • Average health care expenditures for people with diabetes run about $13,243 per person, compared with $2,650 per person for people without diabetes. Even after the differences in age, sex, race and ethnicity are taken into account, people with diabetes had medical expenditures that were 2.4 times higher than comparable people without diabetes.
  • One economic analysis found that a health plan's annual costs for covering treatments to help people quit smoking ranged from 89 cents to $4.92 per smoker, while the annual costs of treating smoking-related illness ranged from $6 to $33 per smoker.

The report also notes that the majority of businesses with at least 50 employees offer some kind of health improvement program. It provides examples of health promotion and disease prevention activities that businesses are using successfully to reduce the impact of these chronic illnesses.

"Employers are becoming more aware that overweight and obesity, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use are impacting the health and productivity of their employees and ultimately, the businesses' bottom line," the report states. "As a result, innovative employers are providing their employees with a variety of work-site-based health promotion and disease prevention programs. These programs have been shown to improve employee health, increase productivity and yield a significant return on investment for the employer."

The report cites specific examples of successful efforts at some major corporations. For instance:

  • Caterpillar offers a Healthy Balance Program aimed at motivating workers to make positive changes to reduce their health risks and improve their long-term health. The company projects long-term savings for this effort totaling $700 million by 2015.
  • Motorola offers wellness and work/life programs that reach 45,000 employees, family members and retirees across the country. The efforts include disease management programs, flu immunizations, cancer screenings and other health screenings, smoking-cessation programs and a 24-hour nurse telephone line. The company reports saving almost $4 for every $1 it invests in its wellness benefits.
  • Northeast Utilities offers a WellAware program to employees and their families to reduce lifestyle-related health risks. The program includes a health-risk assessment and targeted follow-up efforts, such as smoking-cessation counseling and rebates for purchasing smoking-cessation aids. During its first 24 months, the program reduced claims related to lifestyle and behavior choices by $1.4 million.

Secretary Thompson also has launched a new initiative within the department to encourage HHS employees to become more physically active in order to promote better health. To successfully complete the Secretary's Challenge, an employee must engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, during a six-week period. The initiative's goal is to make physical activity an ongoing habit for employees and a regular part of HHS' workplace culture. Kickoff activities for the Secretary's Challenge took place on Monday in the Great Hall at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building in Washington.

Since taking office, Secretary Thompson has made disease prevention and health promotion one of his top priorities and has worked aggressively to reach more Americans with the information and services that can prevent disease. Altogether, HHS spending on disease prevention totals $17.5 billion this year, and the President's budget for fiscal year 2004 calls for an increase to $17.8 billion next year --about a quarter of the department's discretionary budget.

Today's report, "Prevention Makes Common Cents," from HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation is available at


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

Last Revised: September 16, 2003

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