Jessica Davis-Pluess, Manager, Partnership Development and Research, BSR

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases have been called silent killers. They seem harmless but over time become disabling and even deadly. In fact, approximately two of every three deaths on the planet are now caused by NCDs, and the UN estimates that by 2030, five times as many will die of NCDs than of infectious diseases—around 52 million people every year.

Also known as chronic diseases, NCDs are eroding our health and quality of life and devastating healthcare systems and economies around the world, but changes in behavior and environmental conditions such as better nutrition, increased physical activity, or not smoking could improve or even prevent many NCDs. This significant opportunity is reshaping views of healthcare in the U.S. and raising questions about how actors outside of the healthcare sector can improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Elements of the Affordable Care Act reflect this shift in views: Certain provisions of the act promote preventative services and wellness activities through grants to small businesses, investments to improve the social and economic factors contributing to health, the elimination of co-pays for some preventative services, and greater flexibility for employer-sponsored health and wellness benefits and interventions.

In the last few months, BSR has been conducting research on how companies can advance corporate engagements in health and wellness across the value chain. While this research looks at a broad spectrum of health issues, it recognizes that NCDs are a growing concern for business and stakeholders.

Based on our initial research findings, it is clear that the role of business vis-à-vis employees, communities, business partners, healthcare providers, and the government is rapidly changing. Driven partially by rising healthcare costs and a shifting regulatory landscape, companies see a number of advantages to greater engagement in improving the health of the people they touch along the value chain, such as enhancing productivity, attracting and retaining talent, strengthening reputation, and spurring innovation. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Annual Employer Health Benefits survey, 90 percent of large firms now have some sort of workplace wellness program, and our research revealed that many companies are also working closely with cities and communities to develop shared health goals.

Despite these signs of progress, our interviews with companies and stakeholders revealed that business can and should do much more. Furthermore, the systemic, cross-cutting approach of CSR programs means that there is a significant opportunity for companies to use CSR approaches to activate their stakeholder networks, deploy financial and human resources effectively, create innovative business products and services, and gain support from executive leadership to advance health outcomes across the value chain.

Business success in the coming decades will depend upon the ability of companies to work in partnership with their stakeholders to effectively address health challenges. This means that health will no longer be solely the purview of healthcare companies or human resources and environmental health and safety specialists, but rather that all industries and every corner of business will play a role in making people healthier.

Join us at this year’s BSR Conference, where we will host the one-hour session ”Corporations and Wellness” with leaders from business and NGOs to share some of our research findings, discuss their implications for business and CSR, and offer thoughts on we can use the “Power of Networks” to advance health.