September 16th, 2009

How to Create a Culture of Health

From Fikry W. Isaac, MD, MPH, Executive Director, Global Health Services, Johnson & Johnson

I was privileged to participate in the Make Health Happen: Promoting Prevention and Wellness in Rural Communities summit at Montana State University in Bozeman. The summit was organized by Senator Max Baucus to bring together local businesses, public health workers, educators, health care providers, and nonprofit organizations interested in learning how to improve health and wellness in rural  communities. Several companies, including Johnson & Johnson, were invited to participate in the conversation.

With magnificent mountains and wide open spaces serving as an energizing backdrop, Montana was a great location to talk about innovative approaches to health and wellness—a beautiful, adventurous landscape that encourages action.

At the summit, I shared the experiences that the company I work for, Johnson & Johnson, has had in the creation of programs that are designed to help our employees improve their health – and, whenever possible, address the risk factors that lead to disease.  We call this wellness and prevention, and over the past 30 years, we’ve learned a lot about the strategies and programs we can put in place to make this work for our company.  As part of the recent discussions about  initiatives that can be put into place to  improve how we manage health in America, I’m often asked about what it takes to create a successful program – either within a community or a company like Johnson & Johnson – that can help people better manage their health.

Depending on who’s asking, I can get into a great deal of detail, but in general, there are a few things that have to be in place for a program – whether run by a company or by a community — to be successful:

  • You have to address the health and wellness of the individual as well as the organization – you can help the individual to become healthy, but it will be difficult for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle in an unhealthy environment
  • Leaders need to be committed to making such initiatives a success.  Whether you are the president of your company or the parent of a child, you need to lead by example to create lasting change and a healthy environment.
  • Programs should address the full spectrum of health needs, from helping people with a chronic illness to keeping the healthy well. You will realize the most value by preventing the onset of risk factors, like obesity, that lead to costly chronic illnesses.

I’m not suggesting that these strategies are easy. Creating a culture of health – that encourages people to maintain healthy lifestyles — in your business, school, and even in your home requires time and effort. However, even small steps can make a big difference.

4 Responses to “How to Create a Culture of Health”

  1. Paul Riehemann says

    Thank you Dr. Isaac. In a Time magazine article last year you were quoted – “Seventy percent of health-care costs could be prevented through lifestyle modification.” This is a powerful statistic. Would you please share the source. Thank you.

  2. Fikry Isaac says

    Hi Paul, greatly appreciate your interest and follow up on this article. A key source for such statistics is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Overview. Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the link to cost calculator. Available at

    Given that American employees spend a third of their daily lives at work , and that lifestyle behavior modification could eliminate 70 percent of health care costs , employers are in a unique position to influence the health of their employees and significantly reduce health care spending and loss of productivity. Hope this helps. Fik Isaac

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