Zombies running on Red Bull and Adderall are a common sight in startup paradise.
When you're working 18 hours a day, that extra boost of energy and focus is a necessity not a luxury. So, it's no surprise that a typical tech company is the perfect breeding ground for health complications.
That was the key finding in a recent Fortune article that pointed to the rise of mobile medical clinics in affluent areas like Silicon Valley. The story points to Care-A-Van, a mobile clinic, which recently set up shop in a parking lot among BMWs and Teslas to battle this epidemic of advanced aging in Silicon Valley. It serves a myriad of the area's largest employers, including e-commerce company eBay, tech giant Oracle and payments system PayPal.
Traditionally mobile clinics have mainly catered to those in, say, poorer communities around the country where access to health care is limited, cumbersome or people are simply unable to get time off to visit medical professionals. This is clearly not the case for Care-A-Van.
"You'd think when you go to companies that offer great health insurance, on-site gyms, and extensive wellness programs that you wouldn't be seeing the issues we're seeing," Care-A-Van founder Ronesh Sinha told Fortune. "But people are so freaking busy they can't even imagine going out to the doctor."
As a result, common diagnoses made in the 37-foot RV include mental-health issues associated with chronic stress and anxieties, eye and back complaints and deficiency in vitamin D--even though the area sees 260 days of sunshine per year.
Sinha, an internal-medicine physician, started his mobile clinic when he noticed his patients had bodies that didn't match their age. Thirty-year-old engineers would have 50-year-old bodies, complete with potbellies, curved spines and high risks of diabetes and heart disease. The advanced aging appeared to be a result of poor nutrition, sleep deprivation and stress.
As the director of employer health service at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Sinha provided the results of a biometric screening performed at one of PAMF's clients. Blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, waist circumference and BMI were all considered.
In the survey, almost 75 percent of Caucasians, 82 percent of Asians and 92 percent of Indians had at least one risk factor for diabetes or heart disease. This is alarming because more than half of the Valley's tech workers are Asian.
And the overall trend makes sense considering employers often provide sugary, high-carb snacks, energy drinks and sodas to workers for free. And employees sit at their desks all day. In other words, a good chunk of the blame falls on Silicon Valley companies.
Startups at Fault
Most of these companies have implemented some type of wellness program. Lisa Yee, executive director of the Silicon Valley Employers Forum, which represents HR-benefits directors at about 40 companies, finds, however, that many wellness programs aren't working. "I've talked to every one of the high-tech firms, and this is their No. 1 priority," she told Fortune. "'We offer a plethora of programs, but they're not getting the traction we'd hope given the investment we're making.' That's what I keep hearing."
A few have made more of an effort and serve as a paradigm for other Bay Area firms. Social networking service Facebook, for example, made health and wellness options as accessible as snacks and offers a wellness center with primary, urgent, and online care, as well as physical therapy, chiropractor and acupuncture services. Of the eligible Facebook employees, 65 percent have used the health center, making it typically oversubscribed.
If employees are unsatisfied, you would think more employers would make it a priority to execute changes. But perhaps that's where the real issue lies. A report by employer-review site Glassdoor reveals that firms around San Francisco and San Jose come out on top when attitudes toward "work-life balance" and "compensation & benefits" are ranked. In other words, people in the Valley are satisfied with life despite suffering tremendously.
A possible explanation for this phenomenon is that they arrived fully expecting to wed their jobs. And they're paid well, stimulated intellectually and surrounded by people just as passionate.
But with dire health consequences, the Silicon Valley work culture is unsustainable. The reality is that the affluent and educated are suffering from the effects of a desk-centric, high-stress lifestyle. Hopefully, in a place where problems are turned into opportunities, a solution will emerge soon and guide the rest of the culture.