Inaction Is Not An option

Workplaces Can Help Reduce Diabetes’ Threat to Indian Employees In Their Prime

By Dr. Nalini Saligram, Founder & CEO of Arogya World

Nalini Saligram (pictured right) recently discussed Arogya’s Healthy Workplaces program on BBC World News.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung diseases — are the defining health challenge of this century. A full 70% of global deaths are from NCDs, and it is those living in low- and middle-income countries, and the poorest people there, who are hit the hardest. Diabetes is a huge problem in India. About 70 million people live with the disease, and it is estimated that an equal number are at high risk of developing it. In India’s cities, about 50% of adults are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. And Indians get the disease an average of 10 years earlier than people in the West — usually in their 30s and 40s, the prime of their working years. Two thirds of India’s population is under age 35, and as they get older, they are at risk for getting diabetes in large numbers. The public health burden in India is indeed staggering. Inaction is not an option. Something must be done.

Fortunately, NCDs are largely preventable. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of heart disease, 80% of diabetes, and 40% of cancer can be prevented with 3 lifestyle changes: avoid tobacco, eat right, and increase physical activity. Prevention through lifestyle changes is at the core of Arogya World’s work and the basis for our community-based. doorstep health approach.

It is the loss of productivity from NCDs that got us thinking about including the workplace as a platform for NCD prevention. We wanted to find ways to preserve India’s tremendous demographic dividend and the country’s momentum as an economic powerhouse. We started Arogya’s Healthy Workplace program six years ago to get Indian companies to commit to investing in and sustaining a healthy workforce. Our pitch to business and HR leaders is simply this: a healthy workplace means a better bottom line. It means more productivity, less time lost to sickness, lower healthcare costs, a more engaged workforce. A Healthy Workplace helps to acquire and retain talent and contributes to better corporate reputation. Recent research shows that companies that invest in employee health perform better on the stock market. A Healthy Workplace is a competitive advantage.

Progressive companies listen to us — and have applied for the honor of being named an Arogya World Healthy Workplace. Over the years, we have streamlined the process of applying and have always made our assessments (which determine whether a workplace will receive the award) transparent and rigorous. To date, 102 companies, spanning 2.5 million employees, have become Healthy Workplaces, allowing us to fulfill a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment we had made in 2013. Companies such as Indian Railways, Infosys, Reliance, Godrej, Quinnox, Johnson & Johnson, and Citibank are among the ranks of Arogya’s Healthy Workplaces.

One of the remarkable aspects of our Healthy Workplaces is their comprehensive view of health. Indian companies care not only for the physical health of their employees, and often their families and the communities, but also for their emotional wellness and mental health. We account for that in our application process, and also score for the strategic importance given to health at these companies. Do companies report on employee health externally, to their board, to their employees? That tells us a lot about a company’s leadership in health. And we appreciate the value of data, and want to shape the culture of companies to become data-driven around health. As part of that effort, we encourage our Healthy Workplaces to progress from Bronze-Silver-Gold levels to Platinum, at which stage we require data on employee health trends and programs. We have watched companies improve year over year on their approach to health, simply because they started measuring. To date, 22 of our Healthy Workplaces are at the Platinum level.

To mark World Diabetes Day, coming up on November 14, we will hold our annual Healthy Workplace Conference and Awards event in Bangalore. This conference will include sessions on nutrition and healthy eating, measurement and behavior change, and mental health in the workplace. We have ambitious plans for scaling up this Healthy Workplace program, and building the ecosystem for workplace health in India.

Registration is now open.