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Healthways CEO: Preventive Medicine Could Save the US Hundreds of Billions of Dollars

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We hear from the President he wants to save money for America and that paying our "fair share" and taxes are America, but couldn't there be something out there that doesn't cost one red cent to help save the nation money?

According to the health care industry there is. Since the debate of health care reform has started, we have heard time and time again about the need to create a culture of health here in the United States.

Instead of just going to the doctor when you're sick, go for a yearly checkup, get your blood work done and eat healthy. States like Iowa are adapting such change and the Hawkeye State's Governor, Terry Branstad (R), is hoping his state will reap monetary rewards.

Iowa's plan is called The Blue Zones Project. It's a statewide preventative health initiative to become the healthiest state in the nation within five years. I caught up with Healthways CEO, Ben Leedle Jr. who is a partner in Iowa's "Healthiest State Initiative" on how improving the health and well being of Americans will result in a boost to everyone's bottom line.

LL: The United States essentially needs to change its culture to a culture of wellness. Iowa has been transitioning and fully committed to this. How would you rank the rest of the country in terms of being proactive with your health?

BL:While Iowa is taking great strides through the Healthiest State Initiative, there are many opportunities for the rest of the country.

One third of all American adults are obese, and nearly half of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease. Clearly, there is an urgent need and significant opportunity for Americans to embrace well-being and take steps to influence their physical, social and emotional health.

LL: How much in sick days are there around the country and what kind of impact does that have on the economy?

BL: The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index has demonstrated a clear correlation between absenteeism and well-being. The higher your overall well-being, the less likely you are to miss work, while the opposite is also true. Presenteeism (i.e., productivity loss from employees who are physically present at work, yet perform sub-optimally due to health problems or other barriers like personal problems or worries) costs the United States more than $150 billion annually, accounting for 71 percent of the total costs of lost productivity.

Rather, than focusing exclusively on physical health, employers can more effectively influence productivity by holistically measuring absenteeism and presenteeism and providing actionable information focused on physical, social and emotional health and well-being.

LL: Iowa Governor Branstad has said it could save his state up to $16 billion over five years through reduced health care costs and higher productivity. How much will preventive medicine help the overall U.S. economy?

BL: A sustained increase of one percent in well-being for a population translates to an approximate two percent reduction in emergency room and hospital utilization, and to approximately one percent in total health care cost. Such a reduction could save the US hundreds of billions of dollars.

LL: What disease is the most costly to the US economy?

BL: U.S. healthcare costs are driven primarily by chronic diseases, which according to the Centers for Disease Control account for almost 75 percent of all healthcare spending in the country. Common chronic diseases include high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and high cholesterol.

LL: What is the simplest change a person can do that would yield the greatest return on both health and the pocketbook?

BL: Eighty percent of health care costs in the US are rooted in our lifestyle choices and our environments, and therefore are modifiable.

There are many simple yet effective changes we can make to improve our health. Examples include taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking farther away from our destination and walking the remaining distance, making time for meditation or short naps and eating more green plants and nuts. More examples can be found at Blue Zone's Project website.

A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."

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