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Desperately Seeking 'The Biggest Winner' in Health

The latest news in the world of health is not coming from doctors or hospitals. Instead, it's coming from large employers: CVS and NBC. Both CVS and NBC have recently put a spotlight on health-related issues, but the reasons why couldn't be more different.
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The latest news in the world of health is not coming from doctors or hospitals. Instead, it's coming from large employers: CVS and NBC.

Both CVS and NBC have recently put a spotlight on health-related issues, but the reasons why couldn't be more different. This week, CVS announced that they would no longer be selling tobacco products at their stores. This sent a strong message that CVS is serious about putting its money where their mouth is to be a company focused and committed to the health of its employees and its customers.

The removal of tobacco from CVS store shelves comes at a real cost to CVS and its shareholders. According to Thomson Reuters, lost tobacco and associated sales will cost CVS an estimated $2.5 billion in annual sales, and between 6 and 9 cents of profit per share in 2014. This is a clear message about the value CVS is willing to put on promoting a culture of health in the United States.

NBC has also garnered some serious media attention recently with its incredibly popular reality show "The Biggest Loser." Initially serving as an inspiration to millions of Americans to lose weight and get healthy, viewers were shocked when the most recent winner of the show appeared on the finale looking unusually thin and with a BMI that is generally considered underweight according to medical standards.

After public outcry and a rush of media attention, NBC has yet to release a statement about the unintended consequences of the $250,000 contest. NBC's lack of response is disappointing -- they have, in effect, allowed an inspirational health competition to become a parody of itself, in my opinion. NBC's lack of response is a missed opportunity -- they could have been an influential voice in promoting healthy living and addressing unhealthy habits that can become side effects of those seeking to improve their health.

As household names that reach a wide audience, NBC and CVS have a huge influence over how their employees and those within their sphere of influence think and feel. In short, large employers have an opportunity to create a culture of health for both their employees and their customers by taking a stand as examples and role models they set as corporate citizens.

Together, NBC and CVS are industry-leading brands with huge reach and impact, for better or for worse. This is an enormous reach -- if NBC and CVS inspired just 10 percent of their collective audience to reduce their health risks and create a culture of health, billions in health care costs could be saved, and billions more could be reclaimed in productivity each year.

Here are three ways companies can create a culture of health of their employees, customers and consumers at large:

It's not just about your employees; it's about overall influence.
Both CVS and NBC have huge platforms on which to speak, and it's safe to say that neither takes it lightly. NBC's lack of commentary regarding the "The Biggest Loser" champion makes a much louder statement than perhaps intended. NBC could use this instance as an opportunity to put a spotlight on holistic health -- losing weight to become healthier AND ensuring contestants do not drop below an unhealthy BMI or weight. Yes, the prize money is a hefty incentive to "do what it takes" to lose weight, but they could also use the show as a stage to create a culture of health that is multidirectional. A positive message of developing healthy habits over time is missing from "The Biggest Loser," but it's also often missing from corporate leaders as well. The tides are changing, as evidenced by CVS, and the importance of health in the workplace should become even more important beyond the changes from the ACA. Once corporate leadership embraces developing a culture of health from the top-down, we will see a real shift in how people view and embrace their own personal health journey.

The New Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is about using the influence of a brand or company name for good. CVS foregoing $2 billion in revenue sends a message that can start a conversation about health and how it is influencing those who aren't directly affiliated with CVS. Alternatively, the winner of "The Biggest Loser" might be sacrificing her own health for a $250,000 check. Is it really worth it? NBC could make a positive impact by contributing to the conversation about health through implementing new rules for contestants to avoid unhealthy behaviors in extremes and acknowledge the extreme transformation of the winner that has been buzzing across the media and social media.

The definition of CSR is changing, and encouraging and empowering people to make smart decisions about their health is becoming a focus. Corporate leaders have the power to provide resources, educational materials and assistance to their employees to promote this. It's been shown that corporate health and engagement programs increase employee productivity and happiness, ultimately creating positive impact to the bottom line in the long term. Employers who care about the way they influence their employees to make better health decisions also has a ripple effect and employees will take their corporate culture of health home, imparting it upon their families. The reach is much bigger than most would assume.

Creating, Defining and Living a Culture of Health
When companies take a clear stance on health, and leadership drives change to encourage their employees to make health a priority, their employees create a snowball effect that will influence family and friends to follow their example. The importance of developing a culture of health is paramount, and corporate players have the power to be agents of positive change.

If companies can empower their employees (and thus, those around them) to make empowered, healthy decisions via corporate health programs, educational resources, nutrition counselors, rewards and incentives, healthy competition, etc. we'll see a shift in the major problems we face when it comes to healthy living. It's often hard to define what a culture of health looks like, but corporate leadership is obligated to begin thinking about it and more importantly, acting on it.

So what have we learned?
The point isn't that CVS is "good" and NBC is "bad." Instead, it is that it's time for corporate leaders to understand they have a huge influence both internally and on a larger scale, and the cases of both companies are supporting points to that claim. It's time for companies to strive to be "The Biggest Winner" through embracing a new era of health, which means establishing a voice and taking a lead in what health care, and it starts with developing and fostering a unique and effective culture of health -- at work, at home, and across America.