For organizations and individuals, the costs aren’t just physical — they’re financial too. Here’s how employers can tackle this problem.

by Bryant Ott 

There just might be something to the saying “I feel like a million bucks.”

OK, the monetary amount is probably an exaggeration, but Gallup researchers Jim Harter, Ph.D. and Sangeeta Agrawal have determined the price people pay for poor wellbeing, both financially and physically. Those costs extrapolate to the larger discussion of healthcare reform in the United States. And taking the right actions to increase wellbeing can have a significant impact on improving healthcare and lessening the burden of poor wellbeing on employees, their employers, and the country as a whole.

Wreaking havoc, physically and financially

Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace management and wellbeing practices, and Agrawal, a senior researcher, conducted a series of surveys of U.S. households. They measured overall wellbeing and monitored change in disease burden for specific chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorder/insomnia, and anxiety.

Chronic Disease in the United States

The study defines increase in disease burden as one or more new incidences of the previously mentioned conditions. Increases in disease burden were identified using three independent surveys that measured whether respondents were diagnosed with one or more new conditions in 2009 compared to 2008 or had no new diseases diagnosed in 2009.

Gallup categorizes individuals’ overall wellbeing as “thriving” (strong, consistent, and progressing), “struggling” (moderate or inconsistent), or “suffering” (at high risk). One-third of struggling or suffering adults (35%) reported an increase in their disease burden. Comparatively, one in five thriving adults (21%) reported an increase in disease burden. This means that adults with struggling or suffering wellbeing were 64% more likely than adults with thriving wellbeing to have one or more new disease conditions diagnosed in the past year.

Along with the physical cost, that 64% figure is significant because of the financial costs associated with these conditions. Gallup’s researchers reported a distinct difference in the cost of disease burden when comparing these two groups of adults. Thriving adults averaged an annual disease burden cost of $4,929 per person compared to $6,763 per person averaged by struggling and suffering adults. This represents a 37% cost difference, with struggling and suffering adults averaging $1,834 more in disease burden costs per person than their thriving counterparts.

Those assessments include all diseases, not just new incidences from the previous year. Still, the news is grim for those who are struggling or suffering. From 2008 to 2009, the average annual cost of new disease burden for adults who were struggling or suffering was $1,488 per person; this was about twice as much as the $723 in average annual costs of new disease burden incurred by thriving adults.

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