THE BLOG
02/14/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2014

Health Is Wealth

While we focus a lot of attention on the enormous challenge of healthcare costs, notably as non-communicable diseases move from acute to chronic care, the prevalence of what I would call "no health" is just as costly. Consider this through the lens of nutrition: malnutrition (under-nourishment, malnourishment as well as over-nourishment) is thought to cost some $3.5 trillion in lost productivity and healthcare costs every year.

We need to focus then on a culture of healthy living and of prevention. Unfortunately, we tend only to give value to health when we no longer have it. This default position has to change. We need to 'induce' health as well as 'correct' health. For that, society has to have a real and, what I would call joined-up, discussion about how to induce health. It means healthcare systems need to be (re-)developed to give as much focus to induced health as to corrective healthcare.
But we also need to look at the issue much more broadly: the whole health ecosystem needs to be re-aligned so that it induces health. This means we need to address framework conditions - education (including physical), smarter regulation for example. We need to address the supply side and the demand side of the system simultaneously. In essence, we all need to pull together in the same direction and incentives need to be coherent and self-reinforcing.

What is clear is that the food industry has a role to fulfill in this joined-up discussion. Moreover, I believe that the food industry is ready to engage and ready to take responsibility. Of course, this implies some big changes but that has been the fate of the food industry from its very beginnings: responding to new and evolving societal needs and requirements. Needs generated by changing work/labour arrangements such as the entry of women into the workforce or by modern lifestyles such as urban living, have greatly shaped the development of the industry through time.

Governments must set the parameters. Individuals, who, in a sense, 'own' their health, must recognize their role and take on the challenge of healthy living. For its part, industry must drive through its commitments. Self-interest will go a long way in driving these: we cannot be a healthy business in an unhealthy society. Explicit understanding and recognition of the feedback loops between the creation of value for society and value for the business is increasingly well established and will catalyze industry's innovation and creativity in providing healthy living solutions.