Poor health causes major costs in the developed world, to business, and hurts economic growth in the developing world, participants in a session dubbed “Health Is Wealth” heard on the last day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting 2014 that was held in Davos from 22-25 January.

Speakers at the session affirmed the strong economic case for investing in health as a means to achieving long-term growth. “In the developed world there is over $4 trillion a year of spending on health, and we estimate that as much as a third of that is wasted. How do we shift from a transactional approach, to an outcome-based approach. The question particularly applies to mental health drugs. Our ability to understand what happens in the body is unprecedented. And I think we need to commit to understand the brain better,” said Joseph Jimenez, Chief Executive Officer, Novartis, Switzerland.

Mauricio Cardenas, Colombia’s Minister of Finance & Public Credit said health does not just make us happier, it helps economic growth and we have to think of health as an investment decision. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health, USA, said if you are seeking to try to improve the economic status of a nation, a focus on health is wise.

Both Collins and Cardenas agreed that preventing disease, as opposed to merely treating it, must become a greater priority for public and private sector actors. Collins questioned the effect on childhood health of advertisements for sugary cereals during morning cartoon shows. Cardenas expressed interest in Mexico’s recent implementation of a tax on soft drinks, adding that the Colombian Congress has been proposing ways to restrict how the pharmaceutical industry influences prescriptions by currying favour with doctors.

Paul Bulcke, Chief Executive Officer, Nestle, Switzerland said we do not like to hear about too much regulation, and called for better knowledge, research and understanding of the issues, and encouraged his fellow actors in the private sector to “assume our responsibility” to engage in a relationship of trust with the public. “I don’t think that society is served if we have obesity, and there is only one actor that is responsible for that. You cannot solve that with regulation,” said Bulcke.

Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief, The Huffington Post Media Group, who moderated the session said the very title of the session “Health IsWealth” says it all, and while great strides have been made in eradicating or rolling back some of the worst diseases of the developing world, such as smallpox, HIV/AIDS and malaria remain daunting.

“The developed world is seeing epidemic levels of non-communicable diseases related to stress and obesity. The Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot called burnout a disease of civilisation. We need to put healthcare, as opposed to sick care, at the heart of the debate,” Huffington said.