By Chuck Gillespie, executive director, Wellness Council of Indiana

Picture1There are approximately 190 countries across the globe. The United States remains the top economic engine for the world. We lead in many economic statistics. But the health and well-being of our citizens is killing that economic engine.

Let’s take a look at some global statistics:

  • Health care spending: The United States ranks first. No one spends close to the amount we spend
  • Obesity: The United States ranks first
  • Life expectancy: The United States ranks 36th

Why do I bring these statistics to your attention? The cost of health care spending in the United States cannot keep up with the unhealthy lifestyle choices Americans make. What’s more alarming is how close to home the problem hits: Hoosier citizens are near the bottom in these same health risk categories. Indiana is in one of the unhealthiest states in one of the unhealthiest countries.

Consider these statistics:

  • Indiana ranks 44th out of 50 states in obesity. It’s the sixth most obese state in the most obese country in the world
  • Indiana ranks 39th out of 50 states in life expectancy

Because of these risk factors, Indiana has the 10th highest health care cost premiums for exchange-based programs in the United States. To add fuel to the fire, Indiana’s ranking in overall well-being recently dropped from 40th to 48th on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The leading causes of health care costs in the United States are lifestyle related, with smoking and obesity leading the way. Changing the tide of health and wellness in Indiana requires bold decisions from our corporate leaders, our schools, our colleges and our community leaders. These bold decisions will likely upset some people, and many may consider them an infringement on their rights as “free citizens.” This is why you should consider as a strategy how you reward your healthier, high-performing employees. It is also very important to consider the operational cost impact of how and why your employees are absent from work, as well as the costs associated with the too-common practice of utilizing the health care delivery system versus the “return on investment” on much-needed wellness programs for your employees.

In the workplace today, there are three main strategies to gain a competitive edge on your competition: Recruit and retain better talent, reduce operating expenses and improve your products/services. Recruiting and retaining top talent requires an excellent work atmosphere, fair pay and competitive benefits. Top talent also demands a wonderful place to live, so the community matters as much as the work itself. How do you ensure you’re able to improve and expand your products and services? Recruit and retain top talent.

If Indiana companies want to compete on a local or global scale, attracting more people to Indiana and keeping our top students from leaving the state should be the top priority. What do the “best and brightest” want from a state? If you look at information about “Great Places to Live,” the factors most discussed are feeling safe at work and home, career growth and opportunity, great parks and recreation facilities, social activities and good roads. Yes, there were mentions of good schools, but it was surprisingly lower on the list. I call most of the things on the list “culture.” We are proud citizens of Indiana, but what does the rest of the country perceive us to be? This is the question.

What is being discussed here is not easy. If we want Indiana to go from brain drain to brain gain, it will take courageous leadership to understand that a healthy workplace plus a healthy community equates to economic growth and development. It’s important to have nice buildings and a strong tax base. It’s equally critical to have connected parks systems, safe streets, arts and entertainment.  Indiana has the resources; we just need more of our leaders to demand that wellness initiatives have a strategy and a plan that can help companies earn AchieveWELL status (AchieveWELL is the Wellness Council of Indiana’s workplace analysis and recognition program.) That accomplishment blends right into the opportunity to become an Indiana Healthy Community.