Press Release

Behavior change and use of technology are keys to preventing non-communicable diseases

Productivity gains and economic growth will follow, a new paper of the World Economic Forum asserts

February 27, 2017

ARLINGTON, VA, February 27, 2017 — The precepts of behavioral economics will be critical to encourage healthier lifestyles and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, according to a report by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. By fostering this behavior change among their employees, employers can expect both productivity gains and economic growth.

The report, Human-Centric Health: Behavior Change and the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases, illustrates that five key non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, mental illness, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes) account for approximately 16 million premature deaths annually1 and an estimated cumulative loss of $47 trillion in economic activity worldwide over the next two decades.2

The study asserts traditional approaches that place emphasis on the treatment of non-communicable diseases have not reduced their global impact, and an evolution to include prevention through behavior change is needed. The strategic shift from treatment only, to include prevention through behavioral economics, could substantially reduce the economic burden and empower individuals to live healthier lives.

“The report on behavioral economics teaches us that humans don’t always make the best decisions. Instead, they often fail to adopt healthy behavior, despite an understanding of the importance of their personal health,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., North American co-lead, Health Management practice, Willis Towers Watson. “The implications for global employers are clear; they can create environments that make it easier for employees to make healthier decisions, which will improve health and increase global productivity.”

The shift suggested in the report is modeled toward a human-centric health ecosystem. This approach to population health management and improvement relies on a systematic response by an array of stakeholders — employers, government departments, nongovernmental agencies and other groups such as families — to address the threat of non-communicable diseases, in part, through individual behavior and consumer choice.

This model focuses on mitigating the risk factors underlying these aforementioned diseases — tobacco use, unhealthy diet, inadequate exercise, indoor and outdoor air pollution and excessive alcohol consumption. It makes personal, prevention-oriented behavior possible, moves the case for change toward individuals and away from institutions, and presents people with choices that encourage healthy behavior.

Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Global Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum says, “All organizations, public or private, regardless of sector, can influence positive behavior changes among individuals. From making information more readily available, to an adjustment in an individual’s behavior, all have the potential for a large-scale impact.”

According to the analysis, technology is an accelerant for the dissemination of critical health-related knowledge, connecting stakeholders, reshaping behavior and helping address impediments to an effective human-centric health ecosystem.

“Technology plays a unique role in driving prevention,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson. “The combination of sensors and artificial intelligence can reduce the friction points associated with existing approaches to care management and help health care professionals learn what interventions work best in various circumstances, allowing for individualization that would otherwise not be possible.”

The study cites technology-driven examples, such as mobile phones with accelerometers that make activity challenges easy while engaging individuals in a community of supportive peers. In addition, commitment contracts to exercise, quit smoking, or adhere to medicine prescription schedules are easy to monitor using sensors and mobile technology.

“We’ve seen a great proliferation of wearable devices, and our report indicates that over 50% of people around the world would be comfortable using digital technology to help shape their behaviors and guide them to improve wellness,” said Jesuthasan. “Technology is proving to be a key differentiator in the management and prevention of non-communicable diseases.”

Ultimately, for a human-centric health ecosystem to work efficiently, employers, governments and care providers must understand the behaviors that need to occur and the unique role each plays in enabling them. The study does warn that friction points will inevitably arise in any multi-stakeholder ecosystem; however, the authors say it is possible not only to reduce those friction points but also to turn them into enablers of better cooperation.

“Employers should take the long view,” said Levin-Scherz. “Helping their workforce achieve sustainable good health represents a market opportunity, but one that requires vision extending beyond current market pressures. Put simply, keeping your employees — not to mention customers — alive and healthy ensures an ongoing product and service market, and is therefore worthy of investments that pay off down the road.”

About the Report

Human-Centric Health: Behavior Change and the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases describes how a human-centric health ecosystem can bring together stakeholders from the public and private sectors and create a context for cooperation to achieve shared goals: reducing the risks that bring about and worsen non-communicable diseases, providing efficient and effective care for disease sufferers, and thereby improving well-being across the globe.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at willistowerswatson.com.

About the World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum, committed to improving the state of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Learn more at www.weforum.org.


Footnotes

  1. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs355/en/
  2. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Harvard_HE_GlobalEconomicBurdenNonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf