Working with Employers in India to Fight the Diabetes Epidemic

This guest post has been provided by GHC-member Arogya World. Arogya World is an award-winning global health non-profit working to address noncommunicable diseases by promoting healthy living.

A Group Photo of Arogya World’s Platinum Winners

Vijay Sharma* was walking to his car from work one day when he started to experience shortness of breath. He had experienced it two days before, but brushed it off. Before he knew it, he was strapped to a hospital bed awaiting a quadruple bypass surgery.

Sharma was a diabetes patient, which made him one of many millions of people worldwide living with one or more non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. In India, 20% of the population has one NCD, 10% more than one, and 50% dies from NCDs. More than 66 million Indians have diabetes. And Indians get diabetes on average at least 10 years earlier than Americans—typically in their 30s and 40s, when they are most productive. The public health crisis from NCDs in India is therefore genuinely alarming.

It is because of stories like Sharma’s that Arogya World, an award-winning global health nonprofit, has sought to address the diabetes epidemic in India, taking prevention to where people live, work, and learn. One of our flagship programs is Healthy Workplaces, which recognizes employers leading the way in creating health and wellness programs for their employees. With long work days and commute times, Indians often neglect healthier physical habits out of devotion to their work. Addressing NCD prevention in the workplace is smart, and part of our commitment to helping Indians lead healthy lives.

Healthy Workplaces came about after a 2012 meeting in Bangalore between corporate representatives and medical experts, who developed workplace criteria for encouraging healthier lifestyles amongst employees. Arogya World’s Healthy Workplace program is direct, robust and transparent, with formal in-person Assessments and site visits. The program was recognized as a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment in 2013, with the stated goal of recognizing 100 companies who have met the criteria, and helping one million of those who work at these places lead healthy lives.

To date, the Healthy Workplace program has produced solid results. Thirty-two new workplaces were recognized at Arogya World’s annual Healthy Workplace Conference and Award Event last November, which means there are now 79 Healthy Workplaces in the network, spanning 2 million employees. We are pleased some very large employers, including Indian Railways (1.3 million employees), Reliance Industries, and Wipro have joined us. In 2016, Arogya World introduced a Platinum Healthy Workplace category, and seven companies were recognized as having reached Platinum for tracking workplace health metrics. The Platinum companies reported encouraging data: nearly 25,000 people quit using tobacco, and nearly 9,000 people across these companies reduced alcohol use. An increase in exercise was also evident; more than 53,000 employees (about 1 in 8) increased exercise and 5,000 people lost weight across the Platinum companies.

In 2017, Arogya World started a Tobacco-free Worksite Challenge. The Challenge is designed to encourage employees who use tobacco to quit, to protect employees from secondhand smoke and to ban tobacco use in the workplace overall. Smoking is a well-known cause of NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, which makes this a great step for NCD prevention.

In addition, Arogya World has initiated Health Talks at Healthy Workplaces, is introducing lifestyle coach-led behavior change training for the first time in the corporate setting in India, and is offering its app myArogya, designed to help working Indians prevent NCDs, to Healthy Workplaces.

Arogya World hopes that the success of programs like Healthy Workplaces will motivate governments to use and incentivize the workplace platform for NCD prevention. The next annual Healthy Workplace Conference & Awards will be held in Bangalore on November 9, 2017, where additional companies will earn recognition for their commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles in the workplace. Several new partners and service providers have joined as well, helping to build an ecosystem for NCD prevention in the workplace.

*name changed to protect privacy

ABOUT AROGYA WORLD: Arogya World is a U.S.-based 501(c)3 organization striving to change the course of chronic disease through healthy living.  To further advance this work an affiliate organization, Arogya World India Trust, was set up in Bangalore, India. As a result of impactful prevention programs, Arogya World was a finalist for the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation (2014) and won the mBillionth Award in 2013. Arogya World is backed by organizations like Ashoka, Lions Clubs, Emory University, and companies including Cigna, Merck, Novartis, J&J, and Aon. The organization is active with MIT’s Solve, the Alliance for Food & Health, Taskforce on Women & NCDs, and the Clinton Global Initiative. Arogya World leverages these global platforms to make a difference on the ground, improving the health and lives of people in India and beyond.