Diabetes Awareness Reaches the Corner Office

A Multitude of Concerned Executives Could Have a Profound Impact on Fighting America’s Diabetes Crisis

Not long ago I learned that in a recent Milliman study 65% of American CEOs rated diabetes as the number one health issue affecting their respective workforces.

It is certainly encouraging that we have some powerful new allies in the fight against this growing pandemic, although I did wonder what took so long.

iStock-948572262modern building and cityscape outside windowThe Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2017 reported that diabetes cost employers $90 billion in reduced productivity.[i] This is not including the $237 billion in direct medical bills – the lion's share of which was eaten by employers.

In addition to the dollars and cents, there were personal costs from the diabetes crisis that affected some of these executives in their homes long before they made it to the corner office.

One of them was John Howl, CEO of Baltimore-based Broadmead – a prominent senior living community. His wife passed away in 2013 after a 25-year bout with diabetes. 

It was around this time that some of his local peers started the CEOs Stopping Diabetes Initiative, a partnership between the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and it's Greater Baltimore Committee. 

Diabetes Prevention and Wellness

Howl would join the initiative two years later, pledging his commitment, along with the other executives, to initiate and lead diabetes prevention and wellness within their respective companies. As part of his participation, he shared publicly the complications his wife had to endure, as well as the painful experiences that family members undergo, including losing someone they love to diabetes.

iStock-928088290 hand drawing wellness conceptThis landmark Diabetes Prevention Program showed that losing 7% of one's body weight and exercising 30 minutes per day, five days each week, can reduce a person's risk for type 2 diabetes by nearly 60%.

The CEOs Stopping Diabetes Initiative, in addition to relevant data sources, has proven that when CEOs personally lead corporate wellness programs the results concerning compliance increase significantly.[ii] Employees even take "best practices" home to share with their family members.

Beyond even the most well-organized, well-funded community-based outreach programs, corporate wellness enterprises led by executives could have the most far-reaching impact for several reasons.

Of greatest importance, the data generated from the wellness programs' biometric screenings are valuable tools for corporate leaders to adjust and impact employee wellness in a positive direction. For instance, the 2nd Annual Health Status Report of America's Workforce indicated that:

  • For LDL (i.e., bad) Cholesterol Levels
    • 24% of employees are in the borderline range
    • 7% are in the "danger zone"
  • For Blood Pressure Levels
    • 50% of employees are in the pre-hypertension range
    • 11% are in the Stage 1 hypertension range
    • 2% are in the Stage 2 hypertension range
  • For Body Mass Index (BMI)
    • 34% of employees are in the overweight range
    • 20% are in the obese range
    • 17% are in the extremely obese range.[iii]

As unsettling as these numbers are, they are arguably lower than national averages. Notwithstanding, top executives can take the proper steps based on these figures to improve employee wellness with results that can trickle down to the families and the local communities.

CEO-Driven Employee Wellness Initiatives

  • Regarding the 31% of employees with "at risk" cholesterol levels...
    • CEOs can enact education resources that teach employees how to raise HDL and lower LDL levels.
  • For the near 40% that are pre-diabetic or diabetic...
    • CEOs can institute kitchen/break room "makeovers" where fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts replace sugary snacks and beverages; and employees are "strongly encouraged" not to skip meals.
  • For those affected by high blood pressure...
    • CEOs can establish stress management classes.
  • Regarding the employees with high BMI levels...
    • CEOs can:
      • Eliminate salty snacks and all other junk food from break rooms;
      • Incentivize healthy pot-lucks and half-hour daily exercise routines;
      • Create fitness challenges and "walking meetings" for all employees that are both fun and beneficial.

We have seen great things happen as a result of the ADA's CEOs Stopping Diabetes Initiative in Baltimore. We desperately need, however, to see more of these groups mobilizing throughout the United States. 

I am surprised to find that the success of this program has not gone viral and that more CEOs are not organizing their very own Stop Diabetes drives in their local communities.

We also need to see 100% of CEOs rating diabetes as the number one health issue so that we can turn the tide on this global pandemic. 

CEOs' leading the charge is a win-win for everyone. It saves millions in productivity and medical costs. It increases employee wellness and engagement. It spreads to the homes, improves the overall quality of our family life, and it saves lives. Just ask John Howl.

More About Diabetes

[i] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2018/03/20/dci18-0007
[ii] https://gbc.org/ceos-stopping-diabetes-share-promote-wellness-workplace/
[iii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2017/03/23/what-leaders-need-to-know-about-the-health-of-americas-workforce/#20746a512bb4

Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

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