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Reporting on Health

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This report provides a roadmap for health as a key element of human capital. It outlines how corporations can measure and report on health in ways that transcend the traditional focus on occupational safety and health issues. Such measurement sparks attention and is the prelude to necessary actions.

The report, an initiative lead by the Vitality Institute, encapsulates the discussions and debates of a working group comprised of more than a dozen organizations and several experts, including Eileen McNeely, Co-Director of our SHINE initiative. 

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We have observed a growing interest among large companies, including Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, and IBM, in disclosing their employees' health data, such as their stress levels and body mass indexes. In collaboration with nonprofit health advocacy groups, these companies seek to provide stakeholders, investors, and directors with valuable information about their workforce's overall well-being. The Vitality Group's Chief Health Officer, Derek Yach, presented the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 22, 2016.

Yach mentioned that once companies begin measuring and reporting their workforce's health, they will gradually feel internal and external pressure to switch from managing healthcare costs to prevention. According to Yach, investing in prevention can significantly improve employee health, well-being, productivity, and retention, resulting in lower healthcare costs. While workplace wellness programs have proliferated in many organizations, some doctors argue that there is insufficient evidence proving their effectiveness in reducing healthcare costs for companies.

Companies are expected to report on various health metrics such as smoking, anxiety levels, and changes in employees' body mass index. Today, the most significant challenge to productivity and performance is when employees suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease or are obese. A researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Eileen McNeely, who also worked on the program, compared the voluntarily reporting on employees' health to the reporting of other non-financial but material risks and opportunities like environmental impacts.

Companies could establish a "gold standard" for organizations with the healthiest workforces, incentivizing businesses to innovate and improve their operations. McNeely added that healthy employees are more engaged and productive, emphasizing that impact reporting helps businesses improve their bottom line.

It's worth noting that some companies have signed up for the initiative, such as South Africa-based financial services organization Discovery Ltd., which seems to be singling out workers. For example, the company released a report detailing which department lost the most weight in the company's "10 Ton Challenge," a program that could be discriminatory to overweight workers. Yach said he believes that existing laws are strong enough to prevent workers from being fired for being unhealthy, and employee health information is also something investors and stakeholders would want to know.

To conclude, this initiative, if implemented successfully, could enable companies to enhance their employee wellness programs and reduce healthcare costs, leading to a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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