Anusuya Chatterjee
Managing Economist, Research
Aging and Demographics and Education & Workforce Development and Health and Human Capital and Indexes & Rankings and Public Policy and Regional Economics
Dr. Anusuya Chatterjee is a managing economist at the Milken Institute. Her expertise is in measuring broad economic impacts of health- and longevity-related issues. She has led research efforts on some of the Institute's highest-profile publications, involving such topics as the economics of chronic disease prevention and management, obesity, economics...
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Transportation sector needs to put the brakes on health-related productivity losses
By: Anusuya Chatterjee
October 01, 2010
It's not a secret that obesity and smoking are major risk factors for chronic diseases and that healthcare costs are eating away at personal finances. But many conditions that can often be staved off by preventive care or behavioral change also contribute to massive productivity losses to the economy, which could use every bit of help to get back on track right now. In fact, a Milken Institute study estimated that productivity loss associated with seven major chronic diseases was around $1.1 trillion in 2003 and was projected to be 3.4 trillion by 2023.

That's a lot of productivity that could translate into GDP, so where do we start? One way is to look at which business sectors are sustaining the greatest slice of these $1.1 trillion losses.

Recently, a Gallup-Healthways survey concluded that 35.7% transportation workers are obese, followed by those in manufacturing (29.8%) and installation (28.3%). Construction workers lead the pack in smoking (32.2%), followed by those in installation (30.5%) and transportation (27.5%).



Based on this data, transportation workers are at particularly high risks for hypertension, heart disease, cancer and more. This in turn puts their employers at high risk of productivity losses, another blow for an industry that has been hard hit by the recession.

It is important that employers and operators in this sector see the warning signs and take action by integrating wellness programs in the workplace. It's not an easy task for a workforce that is mobile, has limited exercise and nutrition choices, and has a significant number of independent contractors, but it has to be a priority. There's already a start with programs like Trucker's News Fit for the Road and various efforts from The Healthy Trucking Association of America. Easy starting points could include weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs in health-insurance plans. Beyond that, employers and associations can organize meetings, form support groups to help workers quit lighting up, and organize health fairs to educate employees of the potential risks involved.

If the incidence of obesity and smoking are lowered, transportation businesses can save billions of dollars in lost output. A fewer proactive steps will get this industry rolling towards lowering the health-care costs in their sector and in the overall economy.


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