publicA new survey showing that American workers grossly overestimate their health is at the heart of a groundbreaking initiative announced this week by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the CEOs of 22 U.S. companies representing more than two million employees.

The goal of the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable: to create a workplace culture in which healthy choices are the default choices.

Life's Simple 7

The roundtable plans to focus on “Life’s Simple 7,” an evidence-based common standard for employee health programs based on the seven simple steps identified by AHA to significantly improve health. Research shows that people who meet the criteria for three to four of Life’s Simple 7 measures, such as being more active and monitoring blood pressure, cut their risk of heart-related death by more than half.

“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,” said Nancy Brown, AHA CEO. “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.

U.S. not a healthy nation

Her organization says that currently, the U.S. is not a healthy nation, despite spending more on health care than any other country. Prevention is important to changing this dynamic. The members of the AHA CEO Roundtable say they are committed to promoting preventive care and focusing on wellness in their organizations.

The AHA pointed to results from a new Nielsen online survey among 2,004 employee showing that Americans overestimate their health—putting them at greater risk for heart disease and other serious illness.

I'm healthy even though...

The survey indicates that many people believe they are in good health, even though they actually may not be. Three-quarters of employees (74 percent) report being in very good or good health, but 42 percent of these employees have been diagnosed with a chronic condition, including high cholesterol or high blood pressure. At the same time, the survey also revealed that CEOs and senior leadership have a significant impact when it comes to getting employees engaged and reaping the benefits of workplace health programs—creating a tremendous opportunity for the CEO Roundtable.

The CEOs aim to improve health by supporting employees to make simple behavior changes that produce significant results and help the AHA meet its overarching goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans 20 percent by 2020.

Where they spend most of their time

“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-Chairman 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.”

“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, said Terry Lundgren, Chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc. “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.”

More on that survey:

The survey results point to challenges and opportunities for individuals and the organizations where they work. Topline survey results are available here. Select highlights include:

Employers can help when they lead by example to create a culture of health: 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), and reduced blood pressure (28 percent vs. 15 percent) and cholesterol (23 percent vs. 14 percent) as a result of program participation.

Workplace health programs are a win-win for employees and employers: Of employees who feel encouraged to participate in workplace health programs, 69 percent report that those programs have a strong impact on job satisfaction and 63 percent cite the availability of programs as important to staying with their current employer. Half of employees (49 percent) say that wellness programs make a company extremely or very attractive.

CEO leadership matters: More than half (55 percent) of survey respondents believe it’s extremely important, very important or important to see a CEO setting a good example in taking care of his or her own health. The entire organization has a role to play, but encouragement and modeling from senior management is especially important.

Workplace health programs can do more: While numerous respondents report having health-related tests in the past year, many are unable to recall the results. For example, 75 percent of respondents report having their blood pressure checked in the past year, while only half can recall what their blood pressure measurement actually is. Employees at companies that offer health programs are more likely to know their biometric numbers. Employees need tools to help them better understand and monitor basic but critical measures of health.

Who's involved

The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable comprises three co-chairs, including Henry Kravis, KKR & Co. L.P.; Terry Lundgren, Macy’s, Inc.; and Nancy Brown, American Heart Association; and 19 members, including Mitch Barns, Nielsen; Bruce Broussard, Humana; David Calhoun, Blackstone; D. Scott Davis, United Parcel Service; Paul Diaz, Kindred Healthcare; Ken Frazier, Merck; Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson; Milton Johnson, HCA; John Lederer, US Foods; Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical; Mike Mahoney, Boston Scientific; Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark Corporation; Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Company; George Paz, Express Scripts; Dr. Ralph Shrader, Booz Allen Hamilton; Randall Stephenson, AT&T; Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente; Gregory Wasson, Walgreens; and David West, Big Heart Pet Brands.

Additional information on heart disease and stroke can be found at