There has been an increase in disability in the world population. “We are in transition to a world where disability is the dominant concern as opposed to premature death,” wrote Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray, in a new report, “The Global Burden of Disease.”
As the average life span has increased significantly, so too have the rates of ill health and disability — at an alarming rate. Currently, the top three disorders in developing countries are heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (e.g., strokes and brain aneurysms) and depression, and both neuropsychiatric conditions and cancer rates are expected to rise drastically in the coming years.
Another surprising result is that tobacco mortality — and the number of disabilities from the disease — is predicted to increase almost three fold worldwide in 30 years. In fact, even by 2020, the study estimates that tobacco will cause more deaths than any single disease worldwide and become the largest single health problem.
All of these will directly affect corporate America, and the grave reality of operating with a sicker population should serve as a call to action for corporations and health organizations. The potential risks are clear, and the response needs to take the form of prevention and education efforts. Expansion of tobacco cessation program benefits and incentives, for example, is critical, even though tobacco use is declining in the United States.
Emphasis should be placed on behavioral health and employee assistance programs. Companies should embrace benefits for the detection, treatment and accommodation of those neuropsychiatric conditions, including health-care programs that support the integration of physical and mental health. And wellness and accommodation supports for aging workers will allow the retention of valuable human capital and experience.
As the Council on Disability Awareness points out, more than 25% of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. Add to this a rising population of older adults, fewer deaths and the fact that many of us will live to older ages — but increasingly with more disability — and this risk is both a challenge and an opportunity for corporate America.
Corporate attention to disability, as a risk factor and a key area of concern, has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, and this trend must continue. Smart employers will begin to prepare now for this new demographic.