Press release

New report urges increased investment in healthy populations to realize maximum socio-economic returns

New report urges increased investment in healthy populations to realize maximum socio-economic returns

New report urges increased investment in healthy populations to realize maximum socio-economic returns

  • January 21, 2016
  • min read

Press release

New report urges increased investment in healthy populations to realize maximum socio-economic returns


Report signals the need for an urgent shift in focus to maximize ‘healthy life years,' creating business opportunities for disruptors and new cross-sector partnerships

Davos – 21 Jan. 2016 – World leaders are turning their attention to an insidious pandemic of man's own making:  the exponential rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which together claim the lives of 38 million people – roughly the population of California – annually. According to new research from Bain & Company, presented at the World Economic Forum 2016 Annual Meeting, the cumulative direct and indirect costs of NCDs over the next 15 years are expected to be five times greater than that of the 2008 global financial crisis. In response, the report, How to Realize Returns on Health, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, urges a shift in perspective from viewing global health maintenance as a pure cost burden to considering it an investment in preventing disease and maximizing ‘healthy life years.'

The cost implications of NCDs are real and stark: unhealthy populations are expensive for governments, businesses and families.  A 2015 report from Bain and the Forum, Maximizing Healthy Life Years: Investments that pay off, finds that over the past several decades, the cost of healthcare has consistently outpaced economic growth in many countries by an average of 2 percent.  This trend threatens to continue due to three inter-related factors:

  1. The aging global population. By 2050, 25 percent of the world will be 60-years old or older, and 80 percent of them will live in low- and middle-income countries.

  2. Next, a tsunami of NCDs is on the rise in developed countries with even faster growth in the developing world; nearly half of the U.S. population is diabetic or pre-diabetic. In China, prevalence of diabetes has grown more than 10-fold during the past three decades, putting it nearly on par with the U.S.

  3. Finally, urbanization and industrialization encourage a more sedentary lifestyle, with health risks equal to those brought on by smoking, making it one of the 10 leading risk factors for global mortality. 

"We are on a collision course with a major global healthcare crisis," said Norbert Hueltenschmidt, a Bain & Company partner and co-author of the report. "If we don't act now, the costs of healthcare will double by 2029, driven by chronic, yet largely preventable, health conditions. This is an unsustainable burden that will have a ripple effect on social stability and economic prosperity."

Through Bain's work with the Forum's Future of Healthy initiative over the last four years, it has identified nine key inflection points when an individual's health status can change for better or worse.  The research suggests that investing in keeping people healthy particularly during these key milestones – such as pregnancy and childhood – raises both the return on health (RoH) and return on investment (RoI). For example, a 10-year study of more than 3,000 children living in southern California found that those who lived closer to parks had a much lower Body Mass Index (BMI) at 18-years old than those who lived further away. In this case, children with lower BMI are less likely to be obese – a high RoH – and their proximity to parks increases demand for activity, which yields a greater RoI for recreation programs. Additional RoI could accrue to developers and planners if parents are willing to pay a real estate premium for access to a "healthy" community, in much the same way that they are willing to pay for access to good schools.

Achieving this shift is not just the responsibility of the healthcare industry. It requires multiple stakeholders – including private companies, private administrators, urban planning officials, schools and educators, technology innovators, and the public health system – to work together to create an ‘ecosystem of health,' which enables market-driven solutions aimed maximizing healthy life years to take hold.

"Currently, there is misalignment between who pays for healthcare and who benefits, but organized ecosystems of health can help break these silos. They create new markets and business opportunities across industries and sectors that sustainably improve the lives of the consumers at the center," said Hueltenschmidt.

Bain found that the big opportunities for action require cross-sector, multi-stakeholder collaboration and innovation across three dimensions:

  1. Creating the prerequisites for healthy living, built on benchmarking databases that compare best practices and identify gaps in processes, product portfolios or policies.  For example, in Japan, a consortium spearheaded by two of the country's healthcare device-makers, together with 12 other companies, collects data on workplace wellness from more than 30,000 employees.

  2. Shaping a consumer-centric environment for maximizing healthy life years promotes change by activating individual behaviors. Research has shown that social comparison is a powerful motivator; it leads people to reusing towels if they are told everyone else is doing it or reducing their power consumption if they are told they exceed the electricity required by a typical household in their community.

  1. Providing the tools and platforms for multi-stakeholder innovation, including those that build awareness and foster new alliances. Bringing together labor unions, employers, pension funds and health insurers introduces a new perspective on key opportunities in workplace wellness.  In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board is such a body that can call stakeholders to action on specific health topics and metrics.

Editor's Note: For a copy of the report or to schedule an interview with Mr. Hueltenschmidt, contact: Dan Pinkney at or +1 646 562 8102

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