May 5, 2017

How to Harness the Power of the Private Sector for Health

This post was authored by Elyse Cohen, Senior Director of Health & Wellness Programs; Executive Director Health Means Business Campaign, Corporate Citizenship Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Former Deputy Director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative

They say it takes a village to raise a child — that a child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the rearing of the child. But what about more than one child? What about an entire generation of children?

Many estimate that this generation of children could be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. In the United States today, one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) is obese. Our country, our village, needs to act. Raising a healthier generation of kids takes the work of a diverse group of partners — from the public and private sector — each bringing their strength and expertise to solve this complex crisis.

That’s why, organizations like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation engage the business community. Unlike any other sector, the private sector has the power and the resources to make innovative commitments and build collaborations that help establish long-term, sustainable solutions around health and wellness.

The business community is eager to engage. Healthier Generation has been engaging with the business sector since 2006 — working with both individual companies and across entire industries to drive impactful change. To create a sustainable system for health, they created the Healthier Generation Benefit, designed to get children the preventative guidance and treatment they need to live healthily and reimburse doctors and registered dietitians for their services. Companies like Aetna, Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Highmark, Humana, and Sanofi are offering the Benefit to consumers. Thanks to these companies joining together more than 2.9 million children now have access to additional healthcare benefits.

The examples don’t stop there. In the past few years, PHA has helped champion more than 225 corporate commitments. These commitments and partnerships showcase how the private sector can be an active part of the solution in supporting a healthy food system and society with increased availability of healthier products. For example, KwikTrip, a chain of more than 475 convenience stores, greatly expanded its fruit and vegetable offerings and prominently displayed healthier food choices to customers. The chain increased bulk produce sales by 5.5 percent in its first year as a PHA partner. What’s good for our health can be good for business, too!

We also know that every business has a stake in improving the health of our country — not just health care companies. And I’m also not just talking about employee wellness. I’m talking about a community — and how to help the people in local communities make their lives healthier, happier, and more successful from an early age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. businesses nearly $1,700 per employee per year. This statistic alone shows there is a clear case for businesses of all kinds to play a leadership role in bolstering the health of their customers, their communities, and their current and future workforce.

Through the Health Means Business Campaign, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, businesses and their nonprofit partners explored the critical link between the business bottom-line and health outcomes. We’re building awareness around the collective impact achieved when focusing on the health of communities and how businesses can become more competitive in the process.

Engaging the private sector around health goes far beyond providing funding for initiatives. Businesses can play a substantial role in other areas, such as sharing human capital or providing their expertise in certain issue areas, as well as shifting core business models to reach consumers with healthier products and services. Businesses are uniquely positioned to make a difference by moving from what was once considered “corporate social responsibility” to creating a business-led culture of health. Companies like the Campbell Soup Company are designing programs such as Campbell Healthy Communities, a thoughtful community-based model that is being scaled to other Campbell sites and beyond.

We know that complex change like improving the health of kids and communities can’t be done in a silo — no one entity — from government, to nonprofits, to the private sector can solve this challenge alone, but collectively, we can achieve greater results.