Corporate America should take the lead on health front

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With the bloom off the rose on prescription drug advertising to consumers, marketers are getting serious about trying to keep consumers healthy rather than trying to cure them once they get sick.

Our health-care system has never been geared to preventing disease because it's hard to make a buck by not selling people prescription and over-the-counter medicine and by keeping people out of the hospital.

It doesn't help that the link between nutrition and health keeps changing. The government's own standards on what constitutes a healthy diet are "grossly flawed," according to Scientific American's Web site.

"By promoting the consumption of all complex carbohydrates and eschewing all fats and oils, the Food Pyramid provides misleading guidance," according to

Despite all the uncertainty about what's best to eat and which food groups cause what diseases, it's hard to disagree that eating in moderation and regular exercise are the keys to healthy living, as the government proclaimed last week in announcing new dietary guidelines.

After chasing low-fat and low-carb fads, food marketers are now rolling out more comprehensive weight loss programs such as General Mills' Brand New You, based on its cereal, yogurt and frozen-vegetable products. The goal is to help consumers lose 10 pounds with a 10-week meal plan featuring 80 General Mills brands from Yoplait to Green Giant.

General Mills is also hopping on the whole grain bandwagon. The company's ad slogan, "Welcome to the first day of your whole grain life," touts the heart and weight benefits of whole grain in their Big G cereals.

Meanwhile, the massive bills the government and corporate America pay for health care continue to outpace inflation. We now spend $1.7 trillion on health care-15% of the gross national product.

But Business Week points out that other industrialized nations spend less of their GDP on health care yet they rank well above the U.S. in average life expectancy and infant mortality. The U.S. ranks at the bottom quartile of all industrialized nations on these two measures, it reports.

It's time U.S. corporations took things into their own hands. Just as S.C. Johnson describes itself as "a family company," corporations will brand themselves as "health-conscious" companies by encouraging employees to exercise regularly at company fitness centers. Why can't companies pay a greater portion of health-care benefits to employees who agree to work out three times a week-and why not on company time?

If auto insurers can charge people less money if they have fewer accidents, why can't companies offer their employees financial incentives for staying trim and lowering their blood pressure?

The battle for the hearts and minds of both consumers and employees will be waged on the health and fitness front, and health is destined to be the new environ- mental issue of the 21st century.

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