Making people healthier a combined effort


Discovery Health CEO Dr Jonathan Broomberg opened the 2014 Vitality Summit with a session titled “The impact of health on wellness” outlining some of the global trends and significant data in health promotion and chronic disease prevention.

Promoting wellness is an imperative, both for individuals and the public sector, says Broomberg. According to Discovery’s own data, 500 000 people of the 3 million South African Discovery Health members have one or more chronic illnesses, a number which is growing by around 3-4% a year. The cost of public health is growing too. The cost of managing non-communicable disease in the United States is expected to reach $47trillion by 2030. “What else could be done with the money lost to these diseases?” asks Broomberg.

Fortunately, the rising cost and incidence of lifestyle-related diseases can be countered through wellness activities – making healthy choices (such as quitting smoking), eating healthy foods, being active, and managing stress. “We know from our own data that as Vitality members get fitter, we see a dramatic difference in their health, monitored through the claims they make on the Discovery Health programme,” says Broomberg, pointing to statistics that show that active members are hospitalised less, with a 10% lower admission rate than non-active members. They also experience 15-20% shorter stays in hospital, and their cost per admission is 20-30% lower.

Thankfully, Vitality members have shown their willingness to improve their own wellness, recording 70 000 gym workouts a day and earning 1.2 million points in parkruns since that initiative took off. There were over 100 000 walkers in 2013 and 2600 workouts captured on activity monitoring devices – off “a standing start”, says Broomberg. In fact, 87% of Vitality members are engaged in activities that improve their health and wellness.

But, says Broomberg, we want to reach more people, and we are asking how we can use behavioural economics to nudge more people into taking these positive steps, drawing from 16 million life years of data that Discovery has now collated.

The themes of the Vitality Summit link closely with the findings of the Vitality Institute’s Commission on Health Promotion and Prevention of Chronic Disease’s initial report, which highlighted the following:

– The importance of investment by companies and government in prevention science.

– The need to strengthen leadership in wellness from all sectors of society.

– The imperative to create markets for health.

– The power of making health measurable, using health metrics.

– A need for broad cross-sector collaboration from civil society, the public sector, and corporates.

Enabling health and wellness – through devices and other new technology coming onto the market – is a burgeoning market for many. Broomberg points to the likes of Apple and Samsung to indicate how the world’s leading companies are prioritising this segment of the market.

“Technology companies see health as the next big market,” and the public sector and civil society need to collaborate with these and other wellness-focused corporates, leveraging off the combined science and data to motivate individuals, create healthy communities, and ultimately create healthy societies, Broomberg concludes.

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