A Scorecard For Health

Valerie Fleishman, executive director of the New England Healthcare Institute and Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation, say that current efforts to reduce obesity and encourage wellness are "unconnected and uncoordinated." They want to change that by introducing a new scorecard for health that will assess physical activity in schools, access to healthy foods, incentives for wellness and community engagement:

With health and wellness now in the pop culture mainstream thanks in part to the crusades of personalities like First Lady Michelle Obama and chef Jamie Oliver, there’s no reason why Massachusetts shouldn’t be leading this charge toward a healthier nation. After all, the Commonwealth is already a global leader in medicine and the life sciences, was the first to enact universal health insurance access and is now in the forefront of efforts to control spiraling health care costs.

Wellness and prevention should be next on our agenda. To our credit, we already have a good start. Gov. Patrick’s “Mass in Motion” initiative mandates BMI reporting for public school students and calorie disclosure on fast food menus. The “Shape Up Somerville” anti-obesity program is a national model for increasing physical activity and healthy eating among school children. And workplace wellness programs have taken hold at local companies like EMC, Fidelity, Raytheon and AstraZeneca.

But much more needs to be done. Laudable as many of these innovative wellness programs are, they’re unconnected and uncoordinated. This is problematic, since tackling the core issues that affect health and wellness will require all hands on deck: communities, schools, governments, employers, insurers, physicians, the food industry and the media - in full campaign mode, a la Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

The Boston Foundation, in partnership with the New England Healthcare Institute, is working on just this kind of statewide coalition – with the goal of making Massachusetts a national leader in health and wellness. The “Healthy People/Healthy Economy” initiative will link all of the programs and policies and the people behind them into one wellness movement across Massachusetts, gathering them into one more powerful, unified force for change.

TBF and NEHI have designed a scorecard that will measure the effectiveness of the coalition’s prevention efforts against the goals of fostering healthy weight, reducing preventable chronic illness and, ultimately, achieving better value for our health care dollars. The scorecard will keep tabs on our progress in four main categories: physical activity in schools and communities; access to healthy foods; incentives for health and wellness such as those provided by employee wellness programs; and citizen education and consumer engagement around wellness issues.

Over time, the scorecard will keep us honest, revealing whether Massachusetts has the full set of initiatives in place to make a difference – not just in government policies but in private sector practices as well.

The cost of inaction is high. Despite having one of the highest rates of health spending and some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world, Massachusetts also has one of the highest rates of chronic disease in the nation. Our obesity trends mirror the national epidemic: fully half of the state’s population is now overweight, and one in every five adults and one in every three children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And we’re literally paying for this performance, spending $1.4 billion annually on obesity-related health care alone and a staggering $34 billion for the overall cost of chronic care and the resulting lost productivity.

We can’t afford to simply talk about this problem anymore. If we’re serious about reducing the toll of obesity and chronic disease on both our health and our economic growth, it’s time to actually implement the strategies that will truly work to improve these conditions. Massachusetts should lead the way.

This program aired on June 15, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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