Corporate India and the Rise of Chronic Diseases

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Non-communicable diseases are on a steady rise in India and are contributing to an increase in morbidity and mortality. The deaths due to cardiovascular diseases increased from 26% of total deaths to 43% of total deaths from 1996 to 2016. According to a report by PWC, an estimated 66% of all deaths in the world by 2020 would be from chronic diseases.

The prevalence of diabetes increased from 26% to 32% between 1996 and 2016. Most of the deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and diabetes occur prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. It is also a sad truth that most of these conditions are affecting the Indian population at an increasingly younger age compared to the western population.

Impact on productivity

There is a loss of productivity, an increase in disability and a rise in health care costs as the nation is increasingly affected by these lifestyle conditions. It is worrisome that many of these conditions are not diagnosed on time due to lack of awareness which leads to long-term complications and disability. Changing dietary habits, sedentary work, smoking, and increasing alcohol use is contributing to this increase.

India is a country of the young with 65% of the population below the age of 35. There is a long period of opportunity for making behavioral changes, so that risk factors are averted for chronic disease development. This opportunity needs to be well utilized. It is a collective responsibility of the Government, healthcare industry, employers and policymakers to take care of the health of the young population if India wants to continue being on the growth trajectory. Today, corporate employers in India are facing tough competition in their marketplaces with a need to stay ahead. The human capital and employees need to be healthy and productive for employers to gain an edge over others.

In the corporate sector, most of the employees are between the age group of 25 to 45. The employers in this sector are providing health insurance coverage. It is becoming extremely important for employers to do more to be able to attract and retain talent, maintain a healthy workforce and promote an organizational culture that is centered on wellness. Hence, workplace wellness programs have become a necessity for meeting these needs.

Preventing non-communicable diseases

As the old saying goes - ‘Prevention is better than Cure’ and if done well, workplace wellness programs can prevent many non-communicable diseases. Prevention can be started at a primary level, i.e. by motivating employees to take up health-related changes in behaviors and thereby, reducing their risk for chronic diseases. A health risk assessment by a targeted questionnaire is the usual starting point to understand an individual’s risk factor.

Prevention can also be in the form of secondary prevention, i.e. timely diagnosis of non-communicable diseases by screening for common conditions in the form of biometric measurements and lab investigations. If planned and done in an evidence-based manner, these can detect people with diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, thyroid problems, fatty liver, lung problems, cholesterol problems, etc., so that timely treatment is provided. The tests can also identify people with an increased risk for these diseases and preventive measures can be taken at the earliest. These assessments along with creating awareness, comprehensive advice and providing motivation by engaging activities can encourage a person to take a step towards the path of wellbeing.

There is a great opportunity for employers to make a difference in the health outcomes of their young workforce and contain the current epidemic of lifestyle diseases, resulting in decreased morbidity and health care costs.

Key Elements for the success of Wellness Initiatives

  • Strong organizational commitment to the health and wellbeing of the employees, motivation, and involvement from the top leadership.

  • Understanding the individual’s health risks by assessment tools and measurement from time to time and understand aggregate health risks by understanding workplace culture and environment.

  • Provision of necessary tools and engaging activities for the employees and encouraging behavioral change through challenges and campaigns.

  • Leveraging analytics to identify problem areas, interdependence, context, and the groups of the population affected and measure the effectiveness of initiatives over time so that further investments can be planned better.

  • Research into the usefulness of each initiative by defining measures for success. 

  • Intangible benefits like employee satisfaction, the overall feeling of positive morale and wellbeing cannot be ignored.

  • Other initiatives like optimal work hours, environmental changes at the workplace to facilitate wellbeing, curbing work-related pressures, and building a culture of respect and dignity need to be considered to promote work-life balance and life satisfaction.