Apples, Not Danish

Per Falk looked the picture of health, as he hosted a Princeton chamber breakfast at his company’s training center on Campus Drive. Lean himself, he emphasized that no blame should be placed on those with diabetes, or those with a few extra pounds. But Novo Nordisk’s North American vice president for clinical development, medical, and regulatory affairs talked about why employers should worry about obesity and diabetes.

After a sumptuous breakfast (salmon, curried fruit, bacon and sausage, and fruit tarts – the best that Main Street Catering has to offer) it was hard to hear that…

• One in 10 healthcare dollars is spent on diabetes, and 18% of the employee population with chronic conditions like diabetes will consume 80% of health care costs.

• Medical expenses for obese employees are estimated to be 42 percent higher than for a person with a healthy weight.

• Overweight and obese people lose 39.2 million more workdays annually than their leaner colleagues.

Falk, a Swede who joined this Danish company in 2002, deconstructed some of the mysteries that surround this pharma with a long time Princeton presence, starting as Squibb/Novo on Alexander Road and expanding to the Carnegie Center, then to Forrestal Center). It has grown exponentially to 1,500 employees here, with 29,000 worldwide.

• Novo was founded in 1923 by a Danish Nobel laureate whose wife, herself an MD, had diabetes. “We know the name of our first patient, and the patient is the center of our decisions.” Insulin from a bovine pancreas was the first product.

• The pharma company is publicly traded (NVO on the NYSE), as is its sister firm (Novozymes, producing material for industry) but the majority owner is a foundation, so it can spend on research and “green” solutions that don’t produce quick profits.

To encourage healthy lifestyles, the carrot works better than the stick, Falk says. Top executives have to model the behavior, and it takes time. But medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.

Falk encouraged everyone to support the American Diabetes Association October 24 walk and cited these websites:

CDC LEAN Works, a free web-based resource that offers interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design effective worksite obesity prevention and control programs. It includes an obesity cost calculator to estimate how much obesity is costing your company and how much savings your company could achieve with different workplace interventions.

The National Business Group on Health Obesity Cost Calculator.

AHRQ: an evidence-based, easy-to-use diabetes cost calculator for employers.

The World Economic Forum website’s Wellness App lets companies determine how much they can save by investing in wellness programs.

ADA Diabetes Profile and Statistics Cost worksheet:

To these I would add Princeton’s own contribution to individual and corporate health, Viocare’s Princeton Living Well, described as “a multifaceted healthy lifestyle program designed to promote diabetes prevention, weight control, and general wellness throughout the entire Princeton community.”

In fact I nearly raised my hand and said so. Afterward, Carolyn McCann and I chided each other for our mutual silence. McCann used to work for Rick Weiss, who founded Viocare, and now she has moved to Princeton HealthCare System to be a community relations representative in the employee assistance program. We agree that Weiss has some good corporate wellness solutions, and that the community website could be a valuable employee health improvement tool for small to medium-sized companies in the Princeton business community. Yes, I’m a chauvinist, but look for yourself: Princeton Living Well.

Think free apples in the employee break room.

(For photos, click here. For the presentation slides, click here.)

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