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Dr. Oz's Partner, Dr. Michael Roizen, Walks the Talk with His TrekDesk Treadmill Desk

Dr. Michael Roizen, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, warns if the health of U.S. citizens does not improve, the nation will lose jobs to healthier countries.

By Dan Shingler

Crains Cleveland Buisiness News

Hey, America, here's a new year's resolution for you: Get healthier soon — or risk losing what's left of your manufacturing base and economic might.

That was the pre-holiday message delivered to the City Club of Cleveland by the Cleveland Clinic's wellness chief, Dr. Michael Roizen. The economic angle is the latest twist on the doc's gospel of wellness as he continues his quest to convince Americans that they're giving up their own well-being by giving in to bad foods, cigarettes and immobilizing couches.

“I'm latching on to the economics because that's one of the things that drove me to do this in the first place,” Dr. Roizen told Crain's in explaining his fixation with ways to fix the nation's health.

The well-known physician has been making a name for himself since 1999, when he published the first of six best-selling books on health and wellness. Since then, he's become a friend and regular TV guest of Oprah Winfrey and has been named chairman of the Clinic's Wellness Institute.

Dr. Roizen intends to put all that fame to work.

He said it's important to use his pulpit to ramp up his wellness message — not just for the health of individuals, but for the future and security of the United States itself.

Dr. Roizen said it's a matter of simple economics. The world's employers are going to go where the cost of doing business is the least, he says, and health care is a major cost.

“We're at a turning point,” Dr. Roizen said. “We will lose more than manufacturing. We will lose service (jobs), we will lose everything that we know of, because we are twice as expensive as Europe, three times Asia — and that gap, the absolute percentage, is at a point where we won't be able to keep jobs here.”

What's more, nations with the lowest health care costs not only will attract more employers, they'll have more money for infrastructure, education, research and everything else that enables economic growth. The United States simply can't afford to allow its health care costs to continue climbing if the country is going to maintain its stature in the world, Dr. Roizen said.

Eating better at Eaton

Some U.S. companies are taking heed, including Cleveland-based diversified manufacturer Eaton Corp., which is led by chairman and CEO Alexander “Sandy” Cutler, a devotee of Dr. Roizen. Eaton has established its own internal wellness program to reduce health care costs, said Jim McGill, its executive vice president of human resources.

“The trend for medical and health care inflation is running between 8% and 10% a year,” Mr. McGill said. “If you just do the math, we know what we're spending today, and at a 7% to 9% growth rate, our health care costs are doubling about every eight years. ... If we could just cut that in half, it would mean millions and millions (of dollars) for Eaton.”

Although Eaton is only about a year into its wellness program, Mr. McGill said the company already is seeing promising results.

More than half of Eaton's smokers have signed up for a smoking cessation program, which the company offers through the Cleveland Clinic. In addition, 75% of Eaton's 22,000 North American employees have entered their health data — critical numbers, such as their cholesterol levels — into an online health-improvement program offered by WebMD. In return, they earn a discount on their health insurance premiums through Eaton.

Eaton also has revamped its cafeterias to carry more healthy food, created fitness challenges between Eaton employee groups and offers coaching on diet and exercise.

Eaton's employees today are about as healthy as the U.S. population as a whole, Mr. McGill said, but the company wants them to be healthier than average. Achieving that goal would benefit Eaton in a number of ways. It would lower health care costs for employees, increase productivity and reduce the cost of providing medical benefits for today's employees when they retire later.

Eaton is doing the right things, but more companies and the nation as a whole need to take up the matter with similar seriousness, or trouble is on the horizon, Dr. Roizen said.

The nation's population has become much fatter in just the last 10 or 15 years, he noted. Diabetes follows obesity by about 17 years, and heart disease by about 25, he said. If we don't slim down, we will have far more people with those and other weight-related problems, Dr. Roizen said.

Yes we can

However, Dr. Roizen said almost all the nation's health problems are easily reversible if people can be convinced to do just four things: Eat better, exercise, stop smoking and reduce their stress levels.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but Dr. Roizen said there's no choice other than to try.

The nation must address the wellness issue with the same seriousness that it once addressed diseases such as polio. That's another reason he says he enlists the help of people such as Ms. Winfrey — to get his message in front of more people.

“Do you know who cured polio?” Dr. Roizen asks. “Elvis cured polio. They had the vaccine, but it wasn't until the nation saw Elvis get a vaccine that everyone else signed up.”

This time around, though, the nation might get the message from a doctor with rock star status.

Dr. Roizen with a TrekDesk Treadmill Desk