We talk a lot about our aging workforce. To cite Harvard Business Review: “By 2050, over one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, up from the current figure of one-seventh. The number of centenarians worldwide will double by 2023 and double again by 2035. Projections suggest life expectancy will surpass 100 in some industrialized countries by the second half of this century — roughly triple the lifespan that prevailed worldwide throughout most of human history.”
We also tend to discuss obesity quite a bit, this generation’s smoking. The latest Centers for Disease Control stats show more than a third of U.S. adults — nearly 36 percent — are obese. And in 2008, according to the CDC, obesity-related medical costs hovered around $147 billion; in fact, typical medical expenses for obese people were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
But what we rarely touch on is the deadly — and costly — combination of the two. It’s something employers need to be aware of, now more than ever. Again, the CDC reports that “more than a quarter (27.1 percent) of adults aged 50-64 are sedentary, defined as not doing any physical activity outside of work for 30 days.”
The experts over at Metlife Mature Market Institute have made an effort to lift the veil on this growing demographic with their latest research, “On the Critical List? A MetLife Report on the Health Status of the 40+ Population.”
Estimates peg obesity — and its related diseases and treatment — as an annual medical burden of “nearly 8.5 percent of total annual Medicare expenditures.” So these costs are borne by all of us.
But I don’t need to tell you employers are seeing those rising health care costs cutting into their bottom lines, as well. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, from 1999 to 2005, the average employer cost for health insurance rose from $1.60 to $2.59 per employee per hour.
So there’s greater motivation than ever for employers to stop playing defense with old school acute medical treatments and become more proactive with wellness and disease management initiatives.
The conversation needs to evolve beyond simple costs management and containment and into increased employee productivity. It takes time, work and no small amount of investment, which is probably why less than 10 percent of employers are already on this path. But the ROI has shown it to be worth for employers and employees alike.
An Urban Institute study — and common sense — strongly suggests older workers actually miss less work than younger employees, are in turn more productive and at the end of the day show more loyalty to their employers. Don’t we owe them the same?