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SUB CATEGORIESGeneral |  HIV |  Medical Schemes | 

A bad habit can spread like a virus

05 October 2015Jonathan Faurie
Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

The overall health of a nation is an indicator of its productivity and has serious implications on healthcare and medical insurance.

This has been a serious concern over the past two years as the overall health of leading nations has been slowly deteriorating. We have seen nations such as the US and the UK implementing major medical care programmes that aim to benefit the general public. South Africa is also moving forward, albeit slowly, with its own National Health Insurance programme.

Losing ground

Speaking at the Bestmed Captains of Industry Symposium, Dr Christo du Preez, Medical Adviser at Bestmed, showed that overall health is deteriorating on a worldwide scale. “Everything is moving from being healthy to chronic diseases. Many members of medical schemes are finding themselves on a downward spiral and do not know how to get themselves out of it.”

He added that it is in all of our interests to work towards living healthier lifestyles. Du Preez pointed out that 60% of global deaths can be directly attributed to chronic illnesses. While some illnesses are genetic and cannot be avoided, some are due to a chronic disease of lifestyle where a person makes an active choice to live an unhealthy lifestyle.

An issue Du Preez touched on was physical inactivity. According to research undertaken by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 60% to 85% of the world’s population live a sedentary lifestyle. The WHO has also proven the correlation between this lifestyle as a systemic cause of chronic disease. The WHO added that 10% of deaths in 2002 where due to chronic diseases where a sedentary lifestyle probably played a role.

“Physical inactivity, along with increasing tobacco usage as well as a poor diet and nutrition, were always common causes of chronic diseases, but they are now becoming the leading cause of death in the world. Without action, deaths from these diseases will increase by 17% come 2020,” said Du Preez.

The social disease

Landmark research conducted and developed by Dr Nicholas Christakis suggested that bad habits spread through a social network.

The research goes on to add that people may not like to participate in a bad habit themselves, we have all heard about and are familiar with social smokers and social drinkers. According to the research, if a person is obese, there is a 40% chance that the person’s sibling will also be obese. This increases even further with a 171% chance that a close friend of theirs will also be obese.

Christakis added that if a bad habit can spread like a virus through a social network, then a solution can be engineered to thrive in a similar social network. The reality is that peer pressure can be used to reinforce positive lifestyle changes such as going to gym or dieting.

Impact on medical schemes

What impact does this have on medical schemes? Common sense suggests that obese members are more likely to claim from their medical scheme on a regular basis than healthy members. How does this relate to South Africa? A 2011 study by GlaxoSmithKline rated South Africa as the third most obese nation in the world.

Because of the principle that medical schemes cannot refuse cover to an individual, and bearing in mind the GlaxoSmithKline findings, one would assume that the number of obese members at medical schemes may be more than non-obese members. However, according to Christoff Raath, joint CEO of Insight Actuaries and Consultants, medical schemes need to have far more healthy members on their books than obese.

Recent studies show that for every one member who is suffering from a chronic renal disease where dialysis is required, the scheme needs 27 healthy members to fund this treatment. A member diagnosed with HIV needs three healthy members to cover their treatment  and a member suffering from hypertension also needs three healthy members to fund their treatment.

Debating the issue

If the above information does not suggest that there is room for an active debate on the country’s overall wellness, then nothing will.

Chris Luyt, Marketing Executive at Bestmed, said that companies have a role to play in this debate. He pointed out that internationally, human resource departments only spend an estimated 6% on healthcare. This is to their detriment as they should be working towards a situation where employees are able to recover and recuperate as fast as possible.

“As a society, we are always complaining about the lack of innovation in companies. But how can there be innovation when absenteeism is more prevalent than people being present at work?” asked Luyt.

Luyt added that there is no reason that companies cannot play a more active role in the health of their employees. It involves simple steps such as encouraging work cafeterias to offer healthy food options as opposed to mass produced food. Companies can also encourage staff to be more active by possibly taking different departments on walks outside on a different day of the week.  Bestmed is a significant supporter of this point of view.

Editor’s Thoughts:
At the end of the day, we do not need this debate. We need to live a healthy lifestyle as unhealthy members claim from medical schemes on a more frequent basis and cost companies more in productivity. Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts jonathan@fanews.co.za.

Comments

Added by Janet Harding, 05 Oct 2015
Hate to sound like a bore but if more people took a leaf out of the Banting book and cut the sugar and carbs from their diet, I truly believe we would get a handle on much of the chronic disease. This way of life has helped me so much with control of blood sugar and all the complications that go with it. We have become sedentary and lazy. Correct real food and exercise will fix many of our ills. Just saying.............
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