CDC and a Healthy Economy: 5 Questions for Dr. Ron Goetzel

Ron Z. Goetzel, PhD, MA, is a member of the Community Preventive Services Task Force – a nonfederal, independent, unpaid group of experts in prevention, wellness, health promotion, and public health, who are appointed by the Director of CDC and mandated to identify community preventive interventions that increase health longevity, save lives and dollars, and improve quality of life.

Dr. Goetzel also serves as a research professor in the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Director of the Emory University Institute for Health and Productivity Studies and Vice President of Consulting and Applied Research at Truven Health Analytics. At both Emory and Truven, Goetzel leads innovative research projects and consulting services for healthcare purchaser, managed care, government and pharmaceutical clients. Goetzel is a nationally recognized and widely published worksite health expert. 

Given our current economic climate, why is it important for U.S. businesses to make employee health a priority? 

Economic growth in the U.S. is far below where it should be, and businesses face a number of challenges as they seek to provide the best, most cost-effective goods and services. Labor costs are critical to corporations’ ability to compete, both nationally and internationally. If you think about it, businesses have an incentive to keep their workers healthy and productive. If you compare the performance of a business with healthy employees against one with unhealthy employees, the business with healthy workers will win every time. Employers need to consider not just the direct costs of poor health, but also the indirect costs, such as absenteeism, increased accidents, and diminished worker productivity.

The Guide to Community Preventive Services (Community Guide) is a resource to help people understand what works to promote health in their community. What is CDC’s role in the Community Guide, and how can this resource help employers?

CDC supports the Community Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, non-federal body that makes recommendations about what works to promote health at the community level – including employer sponsored worksite health promotion programs. Task Force findings are based on systematic reviews of a large volume of research and evaluation studies that assess the overall effectiveness of community preventive programs, services, and policies, considering their applicability to different populations, settings, and contexts, their costs, and return on investment – to help users select community prevention strategies that meet their needs and preferences. The Task Force findings and the systematic reviews on which they are based together make up the Community Guide. 

There’s a great group of Community Guide staff based at CDC who provide scientific, technical and administrative support to the Task Force. Many employers use the Community Guide as a resource to design and implement effective worksite health promotion policies and practices that can help their workers reduce health risks and improve their quality of life. CDC has also established relationships with associations like the National Business Group on Health, the National Business Coalition on Health and the National Safety Council that help disseminate the Community Guide’s best practices to their members.

Can you share some specific examples of how the Community Guide has helped an employer improve the health of its employees?

Johnson & Johnson and BAE Systems are both great examples of companies that have benefited from The Community Guide. Guided by Task Force recommendations, these companies have realized significant improvements in the health of their employee populations and a positive return on investment of approximately $3 for every $1 invested within a three-year period. The Dow Chemical Company’s chief health officer, Dr. Catherine Baase, tells us that the Community Guide is a critical, evidence-based resource for Dow’s health strategy. Dow has incorporated findings from the Task Force, found in the Community Guide, to address chronic disease risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use among its employees.

Research findings from the Community Guide helped CDC develop LEANWorks, a website that helps employers address the obesity epidemic. LeanWorks refers extensively to Task Force recommendations related to policies, programs and tools employers can adopt to address obesity at the workplace.

Many people associate CDC with efforts to address disease outbreaks, but CDC does much more than that. Why is it important for CDC to be involved in research to improve workforce health?

CDC has many roles in protecting people, preventing disease, disability, and injury, and promoting health, including improving the population’s health and well-being. If you compare the threat of terrorism to the threat of obesity, obesity affects many more people than an anthrax attack. CDC and its partners provide objective evidence about community preventive services in ways that the business community cannot because it lacks the expertise and resources. It’s not the role of the business community to research effective health practices or to evaluate the scientific evidence on any given topic. CDC’s research findings, scientific support of the Task Force, and programmatic initiatives are critical to keeping employees healthy, safe and productive.

What’s your best advice for business leaders who want a healthier, more productive workforce?

Become informed. There is much that can be learned from the Community Guide and CDC that can benefit you and your business. Improving employee health isn’t just the right thing to do – it can have a dramatic benefit on your bottom line. Get information about what works, and what doesn’t. CDC should be your first source for information. Don’t spend time reinventing the wheel.

Learn more about the Community Guide

Learn more about CDC’s LeanWorks

Learn more about how the Community Guide has helped to inform Dow Chemical’s health strategy

Learn more about the C. Everett Koop National Health Awards presented by The Health Project

Ron Z. Goetzel, PhD, MA, is a member of the Community Preventive Services Task Force.