Tobacco, food choices and portion size, physical inactivity and unmanaged stress are the four major lifestyle choices that account for the majority of chronic disease in the U.S., said Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, this week at the Institute for Health and Productivity Management annual conference.

Prior to implementing a comprehensive wellness program for Cleveland Clinic employees – including removing all sugary drinks from vending machines and the removal of deep fryers from all cafeterias – the organization’s health care costs were going up at about 9% per year. “It took us five years -- we’ve learned how to do it faster now – to flatten the curve and bend it down,” said Roizen. “Over the past three years, [health care costs have] decreased at sixth-tenths percent. Chronic disease had been increasing by almost 10% a year … they’ve now decreased three years in a row at an annual compound rate of 2%. So you can do this.”

Roizen shared recent headlines that have given him hope that America can change its health course, including CVS’s recent decision to stop selling tobacco products, declines in childhood obesity rates, a flattening of U.S. health care costs and a decline in hospital admissions.

“Why are these important? Because they say that medical volumes are down and can continue down as wellness pushes the U.S.A. to prosperity,” said Roizen. “It won’t be certain, it won’t be easy and we need to keep the battle plan up, but it will be a tail wind for the economy rather than a head wind.”

Roizen, himself no stranger to celebrity, cited Elvis Presley’s decision to get vaccinated against polio on live TV prior to joining the army as an early use of social media. “In 1958, 0.3% of Americans who were eligible for the polio vaccine got it … within eight months [of Presley’s vaccination], 83.2% of Americans got immunized against polio. … it saves us $55 billion a year.”

The Cleveland Clinic talks to employees about 151 health behaviors and positions much of its messaging around aging “because that grabs people. Everyone here wants to be younger or remembers how they felt when they were younger,” said Roizen.

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