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C-suite executives urged to make health of employees a priority

David Agus is a regular media contributor, co-founder of two companies and author of three best-selling books. He will speak on Nov. 16 in Toronto at The Globe and Mail’s inaugural Executive Performance Summit. NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Dr. David B. Agus attends THRIVE: A Third Metric Live Event at New York City Center on April 25, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

D Dipasupil/Getty Images

David Agus has a reputation as a health-care oracle, with a trend-bucking view of how we should look after our bodies and a keen eye for discerning how emerging technologies can transform medicine.

The professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California – where he leads the school's Westside Cancer Center and Center for Applied Molecular Medicine – is the author of two bestselling books. A third, The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health, has been recently released.

Nearly three decades since he graduated cum laude in molecular biology from Princeton University, Dr. Agus remains a leading proponent of empowering people to take control of their health.

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"We are living in this remarkable time where medical discoveries are happening daily and advanced technologies are allowing us to not just treat disease, but to also predict and prevent it," says Dr. Agus, a regular media contributor and co-founder of two companies.

Navigenics Inc., acquired four years ago by Life Technologies, provides personalized genetic testing services, and Applied Proteomics Inc. offers blood-testing technology for colorectal cancer.

"Today, we can sequence your DNA and know what diseases you're likely to develop, which then allows you to focus your efforts in your health care, learning and even philanthropy in terms of the medical research you want to support."

With customized medicine on the world's doorstep, a critical challenge is shifting entrenched thinking and behaviours toward actions based on scientific data that are focused on prevention. For example, Dr. Agus says, simple changes such as better eating habits at the right times of day and getting the flu shot each year can help stop serious illnesses such heart disease and cancer.

This, he adds, is where corporate leaders can make a difference. "For normative behaviours to change, you need leadership and this needs to come from the C-level in companies," he says. "If executives get it and set the example, then the right things will happen."

One way to make health a C-level priority is to appoint a chief health officer, Dr. Agus says, adding he believes every company should have a CHO.

"It's easy to lean back and let progress take care of you. But health isn't just about not dying or not having an illness, it's about thriving. But you have to act, because the easiest way to treat disease is to prevent it."

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This is the first of three profiles of speakers appearing at The Globe and Mail's inaugural Executive Performance Summit, which takes place in Toronto on Nov. 16. Visit globesummits.ca for details.

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