The three co-chairs of the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable talk during a meeting of the Roundtable in July: From left: Henry Kravis, Co-CEO and Co-Chair of KKR & Co. L.P.; American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown; and Terry Lundgren, Chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc.

More than 20 chief executives are joining with the American Heart Association in an extensive effort to make the country’s workplaces healthier – an urgent need because of obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure and other chronic health problems in the workforce.

The new American Heart Association CEO Roundtable is made up of 22 corporate leaders who oversee a combined 2 million-plus employees across the country. The group will reach out to people at work as part of a larger effort to improve the health of the entire nation, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said.

“With the AHA CEO Roundtable, we’re starting a movement to transform the culture of the workplace to meaningfully engage employees to take simple steps that can dramatically reduce their risk of heart-related death and illness,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday announcing the launch of the Roundtable. “Together with some of the country’s most influential CEOs, we are working to tackle this issue head-on, share best practices and identify cutting-edge, new programs to help get America heart-healthy.”

The AHA released survey results Tuesday that provide a troubling snapshot for the health of the nation’s workforce, including increased risks for heart disease and stroke – the leading causes of death in the world.

The Nielsen online survey of about 2,000 employees found that 74 percent of employees reported being in very good or good health. But actually 42 percent of those employees had been diagnosed with a chronic condition, including high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

At the same time, the survey found that CEOs and other senior leadership have a significant impact when it comes to getting employees engaged in workplace health programs. That’s a promising finding, members of the Roundtable said, because the U.S. spends more on health care than any other country and prevention in the workplace can go a long way.

CVS Caremark President and CEO Larry Merlo (left) and Merck Chairman, President and CEO Ken Frazier during the July meeting of the CEO Roundtable.

“The AHA CEO Roundtable is uniquely positioned to create real changes in health and wellness by engaging more than 2 million people where they spend most of their day — at work,” said Henry Kravis, Co-CEO and Co-Chair of KKR & Co. L.P. “We are taking what we know — from the CEO Roundtable companies, leading doctors and scientists, and this new data — and combining it with the expertise of the AHA to make a meaningful impact on our employees’ health.”

Other key survey results include:

  • Employees who are encouraged by senior management to participate in workplace health programs are nearly twice as likely to report improved health (61 percent vs. 34 percent) and significantly more likely to report healthy eating (60 percent vs. 33 percent), weight loss (41 percent vs. 27 percent), reduced blood pressure (28 percent vs. 15 percent) and reduced cholesterol (23 percent vs. 14 percent) as a result of program participation.
  • Of employees who feel encouraged to participate in workplace health programs, 69 percent report that those programs have a strong impact on job satisfaction. Sixty-three percent cite the availability of programs as important to staying with their employer.
  • Fifty-five percent of survey respondents believe it’s important to see a CEO setting a good example in taking care of his or her own health.
  • Employees at companies that offer health programs are more likely to know their important health numbers such as blood pressure.

The CEO Roundtable aims to improve overall employee health by supporting simple behavior changes that produce significant results. The CEOs are planning to put the survey results to work – capitalizing on the finding that leading by example can improve workplace health.

“Our employees are what make our company great and their health is an important part of our success,” said Terry Lundgren, Chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc. “We know that, in the U.S., at least 200,000 deaths from heart disease could be prevented each year through changes in health habits. We need to make it easier for our employees to make these changes — to make healthy choices and lead healthy lives. That means leading by example.”

The Roundtable is focusing on overall health and prevention to combat a number of health problems, but its work also will go a long way toward the American Heart Association’s nationwide goal of dramatically improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans 20 percent by 2020.

The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable is made up of three co-chairs, Brown, Kravis and Lundgren. In all, the group includes 22 CEOs.

“We can’t wait to start bringing our ideas to practice to help build healthier work places around the country,” Brown said.

The 19 other members are:

  • Mitch Barns, Nielsen
  • Bruce Broussard, Humana Inc.
  • David Calhoun, Executive Chairman, Nielsen
  • D. Scott Davis, United Parcel Service
  • Paul Diaz, Kindred Healthcare Inc.
  • Ken Frazier, Merck & Co. Inc.
  • Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson
  • Milton Johnson, HCA
  • John Lederer, US Foods Inc.
  • Andrew Liveris, The Dow Chemical Co.
  • Mike Mahoney, Boston Scientific Corp.
  • Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark Corp.
  • Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Company
  • George Paz, Express Scripts Inc.
  • Dr. Ralph Shrader, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
  • Randall Stephenson, AT&T Inc.
  • Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente
  • Gregory Wasson, Walgreen Co.
  • David West, Big Heart Pet Brands