As more and more evidence piles up about the harmful effects a poor diet and lack of exercise have on our health -- and on the growing cost of medical treatment -- many companies are taking a more active role in promoting healthy habits among workers. But is it appropriate for your employer to weigh in on these issues?
It certainly is, says CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus. In a commentary for The Wall Street Journal, he argues that every company should appoint a chief health officer.
"Much in the way a chief technology officer focuses on the scientific and technological issues within a company, a chief health officer would be charged with staying abreast of the rapid changes in medicine that make it easier to maintain a healthy workforce," he writes.
Agus cites statistics showing that 86 percent of U.S. employees are above normal weight or have a chronic health condition, and that they miss an estimated 450 million extra days of work a year compared with healthy workers. This costs American businesses from $150 billion to a little more than $225 billion in lost productivity, according to a recent study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
A chief health officer would be an uncomplicated solution, Agus said, to not only help keep workers healthy, but improve the company's bottom line.
"About fifteen years ago, companies with the greatest advances in technology all formed chief technology officers, and allowed there to be kind of a uniform response to this technology," Agus told "CBS This Morning." "Well, that's happening in health now. We're literally at this transformation in health and so we need to change. Chief health officers is the new way where you can align for the employees, the products, and the mission of the company."
Agus acknowledged that some employees may resent a big-brother-like approach and don't want employers telling them they should make healthier decisions, but he said it's all in the way the information is presented. "Educate, develop programs for the employees and their families, and at the same time, look at the insurance plans," he said. "They have to meet your employees."
Evaluating these strategies with data to assure they are working is another important role of a chief health officer, Agus said.
"Are things working? Are they not working? Is what we're doing here helping the bottom line and the employees? Is it not? And you can iterate and improve but you need a leader to make these behavior changes," he said.
When asked if the idea of hiring a chief health officer would catch on, Agus replied, "I think this has to catch on. Health expenses are going up dramatically for every company. Employees want to be loyal to the company -- this will all help."