Funds and their insurers should play a bigger role in helping to prevent chronic diseases that stem from poor lifestyle and dietary choices, according to leading health experts at the Group Insurance Summit.

Kerry Doyle, chief executive of the Heart Foundation NSW, said Australia had reached a “tipping point” in obesity, which compelled change across all sectors, including workplaces and via insurance offerings within super funds.

“We’re at a point where 63 per cent of Australians are obese, representing a 15 per cent jump since 2007. 90 per cent of those with high cholesterol are unaware they have it,” she said, highlighting that cardio vascular disease as a 7.7 billion dollar industry is a big issue and so it was critical to get people to understand the risk to themselves.

Other speakers urged funds and insurers to get involved in introducing health and lifestyle programs.

Johan Van Rooyen, chief executive of AIA Vitality, said the key lay in creating incentives and workplace programs to tackle smoking, poor diets and a lack of exercise.

“Employers are uniquely positioned to intervene in these factors,” he said. “It’s in your best interest to get people as healthy as possible, because they are more productive according to all the data that keeps coming through. For me that’s the fantastic opportunity.”

Colin Cassidy, national insurance manager for Hostplus, said since the fund introduced a health and exercise based program in 2007, 1000 members had completed it, with some going back a second or third time.

“It comes back to the cost of running these programs,” he said. “When we decided to go down this path, we sat down with our insurer and said ‘hopefully you get less claims and if you do, there are more profits for you’.”

Hostplus’ program, in conjunction with the Richmond AFL football club in Melbourne, lets employer members and their executive teams complete a six week program with their trainers and in their gym.

Cassidy said the feedback was enormous. “Employers have gone back a second or third time to put teams through it. Other things we’ve done is roll out mental health programs through our insurer, Metlife, in TAFE colleges around Australia. We’re starting on the ground, with young people in the industry.”

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