Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Corporate Wellness: Is Obesity Really a Disease?

obese manOfficially, one-third of the U.S. is now ill. The American Medical Association has voted and officially upgraded obesity from a “condition” to a “disease.”

While I have no doubt this decision will affect everyone due to the change in how insurance companies view and care for obesity, I find myself wondering whether obesity truly should be considered a disease. Some will argue it fits the definition of a disease. People die of obesity as they would cancer, while others feel people actually die of the diseases from the metabolic dysfunction, which in turn causes obesity. It’s a very complex issue that has already created quite the debate, and surely there is more to come.

The Implications of Classifying Obesity as a Disease

One thing is for sure: By classifying obesity as a disease that is costing insurance companies and Americans more money, there will be increased pressure on associated industries to work together to find a “cure.” As an example, obesity needs to be measured differently on a universal scale. The current standard is Body Mass Index (BMI) and because of this simplistic means of measuring one’s height versus weight, the Council on Science and Public Health actually recommended against classifying obesity as a disease. It is not uncommon for someone with a BMI above the recommended level to be healthy and free from metabolic dysfunction. On the other hand, it is equally normal to have someone who is within the recommended BMI range with an unhealthy amount of body fat and suffering from the same metabolic dysfunction. The first person would be overtreated, while the latter would go untreated.

My Opinion on Obesity Diagnosis and Treatment

Do I feel obesity is a disease? No, it is my professional opinion that obesity is a symptom or marker of metabolic dysfunction; however, I am optimistic now that it has gained the title of disease because it does shed new light on the issue. My fear is that classifying obesity as a disease will bring obesity too far into the medical world. Insurance is likely to cover expensive drugs and surgeries rather than support lifestyle changes. Knowing there is no single way to “cure” everyone of obesity, I feel strongly this would not be the right direction to go. As we seek an effective means of treatment for obesity, I support its classification as a disease under a few conditions:

  • If a more inclusive method for identification and diagnosis is implemented. BMI alone is not sufficient or even accurate in some cases.
  • If each case is handled separately. With different causes of obesity and metabolic dysfunction, there will be multiple successful methods.
  • Lifestyle changes should play a role in all cases to some degree, and including these changes should be a priority.
  • More resources need to be applied to further research and education of causes, treatments, and prevention of obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

What do you think? Comment below and watch for part two in this three-part obesity series, on the causes of obesity.

Topics: overweight employees Body Mass Index obesity control healthcare costs

Corporate Wellness, Employee Engagement, ROI, oh my

Pardon me while I use our blog to rant.  It doesn't happen often, but apparently there was no amount of pounding the pavement (aka running) that was going to get this out of my head.  Lacking other healthy tools to cope with very bad corporate wellness practice, I'm turning to the blog to pound it out on the keyboard.  You should stop reading if you don't care about employee engagement, human capital, and ROI in corporate wellness.  Shamelessly, this blog is more for me than it is for you. 

Ok - disclaimer provided.  Here we go.

There's so much buzz around corporate wellness, it's dizzying.  Who can keep track of all the apps, gadgets, providers, platforms, and statistics in employee health promotion?!  We're too busy helping people make better choices to keep track of this stuff.  Thus, I join other organizations who provide me with updates in the industry periodically; it takes the burden off me feeling like I always have to be search, search, searching for what's up and coming.

It all started with an email.

So the other day I got an email, much like many other emails, in which a promotion around employee engagement was being peddled.  You get these emails, I know you do.  This one, in particular, was from a well-known clearinghouse of resources for corporate wellness professionals, and my hunch is that they have a HUGE reach across the US.  Provider organizations pay to be promoted by via email to the membership list for this "clearinghouse organization". 

Let me be clear - I'm not begrudging the organization who sent me the email, or the provider company who paid to reach my inbox. (Though I do feel a little sorry for both who may not know the painful truth about outbound marketing.) The marketing message in that email, however, is at best suspect, and at worst, completely misleading and disingenuous to the hard fought, small gain work that is employee health promotion. 

"Got Engagement" 

This was the focus of the marketing email - the vendor was offering their product/service and promoting that they had the key ingredient for employee engagement.  Maybe they do (it's kind of the silver bullet in corporate wellness...who knows, maybe this groupcorporate wellness recipe has it all figured out).  But to promote it in a way that engagement from employees is something you go "get", that it's algebraic or formulary, that there is something you simply add to your corporate wellness strategy recipe, is completely off the mark.  You don't add a vendor, a worksite fitness center, a health coach, or change a policy about flex time and BAM!  Engagement! (Cue triumphant music.)

No, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely not.  The battle for employee engagement in corporate health promotion is won in relationships and over time, and with the evolution of trust and loyalty in the workplace.  Offering biometric screenings and cool online HRA that gives you a personal wellness score isn't enough.  An onsite fitness center isn't enough. (Believe me... for NIFS business, I wish it was!)  And you can't buy your way into the hearts of your employees with trinkets and trips, and other incentives.

If you want engagement in your workforce around your corporate wellness initiatives, you start with relationships.  You have to work at it by working with your workforce to understand them, their needs, their fears, their hopes.  You have to give a little, learn a little, and step out on that relationship-building edge a little. 

(I feel a sappy song coming on, so I'll wrap it up here.)

You want your workforce to engage?  Treat them like people, get your head out of the corporate wellness ROI clouds, and for crying out loud, quit referring to your workforce as "Human Capital".

Want to confess...I mean comment on this post?  Have an entirely different point of view?  Share it below.  Maybe it'll be the start of a beautiful relationship!


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Topics: corporate wellness healthy workforce Wellness in the Workplace worksite wellness corporate fitness centers; return on investement control healthcare costs

The Organizational “Body”: Improved Employee Health

This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

leadership, corporate wellness, worksite wellnessWhen was the last time you did an organizational health checkup? If your organization were one body, what would its state of health be? How would you read its vital signs? Permit me this analogy for a moment: The CEO is the head, the brain, the vision. Your employees are the rest of the body: limbs, skin, muscles, organs, and senses.

Brain directs and body makes it go.

Your organizational body is only as effective, healthy, and vital as its weakest part. If some parts are ailing or unfit, all are affected. From hangnails to heart attacks, the effects can be minor or devastating, but they cannot be denied.

What are you doing to help your corporate body stay healthy and fit in every part?

Usually there are two reasons your employee body may not prioritize a health-preserving/enhancing lifestyle choice. Either they just don't know how, or there's an obstacle.

Ignorance can be overcome by education―a connection with a knowledgeable staff member at your corporate fitness center, for example. And most often, an early encouraging outcome will spur your worker into action toward greater goals.

Obstacles can be many, and some of those are well beyond the organization. But with employees spending more than half of their waking hours at work, the employer has a prime opportunity to effect healthy change for its employees. 

Support is mission-critical. At the right place and time, it makes all the difference.

Topics: corporate wellness employee health corporate fitness control healthcare costs productivity businesses

Down Economy = Employee Health Opportunity

This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

A headline came into my inbox recently indicating that Americans accessed the healthcare system less in 2010. I was intrigued, so I opened the post and read on. The data looked at markers like visits to the doctor, lab tests, and hospital admissions—with all-system access being lower in the first three quarters of 2010 than it was for the same period in 2009.

A Sign of Improved Employee Health?

Although my gut told me the driver behind this trend was economic, a little piece of me was holding out hope that some portion of Americans used the healthcare system less because they took powerful and lasting steps toward improved personal health.

corp healthAlas, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the decreased utilization in 2010 was directly related to the economy; individuals lost insurance coverage when they lost their jobs, and they tightened their discretionary spending significantly. So I didn’t get my wish. There wasn’t a
health-promotion fairy out there waving her magic healthy wand to help people choose better health.

An Opportunity for Corporate Wellness Programs

But all hope is not lost—and employers, this is where you really need to listen up. A recent study from the University of Michigan showed that risk-specific messaging may help recipients change their health behavior. While your employees' use of the healthcare system is already down, consider this a prime time to deliver very targeted health-promotion messaging to your employees, and perhaps they will continue to tap into the health system less and less with better health. The result: decreased medical expenses for everyone!

How are you targeting your messaging to your employees?

Topics: corporate wellness employee health control healthcare costs decreased healthcare utilization

Can Cash Tip the Scales Toward Employee Health?

This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

There's been some hubbub lately about whether employers can Scale resized 600find their employees' monetary sweet spots when it comes to losing weight. Various articles such as this one tell of efforts to use money as a corporate reward to motivate overweight employees to shed pounds.

But let's face it: If losing weight were really that simple, most people would successfully lose (and keep off) weight without having to be paid to do so. The truth is that weight loss is incredibly complex and most people make the mistake of trying to manage their weight without engaging in regular exercise. The science proves that effective long-term strategies for weight management include dietary balance as well as regular exercise.

If you want your employees to have a healthy body weight, you have to help them focus on exercise. Throwing money at them won't fix it, but revamping workplace policies, establishing a health culture directed by your leadership, and creating opportunities for exercise at work will get them moving in the right direction. NIFS offers a variety of exciting programs that can help.

The benefits of a healthy workforce go far beyond the ability to control healthcare costs and improve absenteeism. Employees who feel better are simply able to do their jobs better.

Topics: employee health overweight employees control healthcare costs corporate rewards health culture improve absenteeism

Why Wellness Programs Should Tackle Childhood Obesity

This blog was written by Kara Shipman. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

We’ve all heard the staggering facts: One in three children is overweight or obese. This rate is three times higher than it was 30 years ago. If these trends continue, nearly 50 percent of the child population could be obese in a matter of years. 

Why Is Childhood Obesity a Problem for Employers?

But why does childhood obesity matter to employers? Does childhood obesity even come to mind when employers think of worksite wellness? It should. Why? Because employers’ health insurance covers every member of the family up to a certain age—and that includes kids. And obese kids are at risk for a variety of complications and serious illnesses.

Making Kids Part of the Health Culture

Hot dog lunch resized 600I know it can be difficult to target programs toward children, especially if you have age restrictions at your onsite fitness center. One of the things NIFS did recently was put on a Kids' Camp, offering summer-camp–style workout sessions for children. Parents got to drop off the kids and work out at the facility while the kids had fun getting their recommended daily 60 minutes of physical activity.

When employers show that they care about the health of the entire family, they’ll appeal to the parents. This, in turn, may lead to more involvement in the corporate wellness program. Meanwhile, making kids and parents healthier helps control healthcare costs.

How do you incorporate families in your worksite wellness offerings?

Topics: corporate fitness program control healthcare costs health culture

Emphasizing Preventive Care in Corporate Wellness

This blog was written by Mechelle Meadows. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

While more Americans gain access to healthcare in the next decade, and more senior citizens are eligible for Medicare, one-third of physicians will be due for retirement. Experts predict this will create a shortage of medical doctors. This is alarming news, if it comes to fruition. Now is the time to stress preventive care in corporate wellness programs.

Schedule Health SBlood Pressure Screening resized 600creenings

Preventive care includes scheduling all regular screenings specific to your age and gender; for example, mammography, colonoscopy, and dental checks. People should schedule as many of these screenings as can fit into one doctor appointment, assuming they fall under the physician’s scope of qualifications. They shouldn't wait until they discover something irregular to make that doctor visit because it may become increasingly hard to secure timely appointments.

Practice Self-Care

In taking preventive measures, there is also a component of self-care that requires no physician. Remind your corporate fitness center participants that exercise and nutrition are perhaps the two biggest methods of self-care.

After you exercise, the immune system is elevated for 24 hours, says the American Council on Exercise. A workout regimen including impact and weight-bearing activities enhances bone health, reducing the need for osteoporosis treatments.

The most well-known fact is that exercise improves all the body’s workings related to the heart, decreasing the chance of cardiovascular disease.

Proper nutrition, including vitamins and minerals, is related to a decreased risk of developing almost all forms of cancer. Also, don’t discount self-exams. While a physician has a better-trained eye for abnormalities, regular self-exams including breast self-exams, skin cancer self-exams, and more can supplement the annual doctor’s assessment.

Make Preventive Health a Priority

Teach your employees to make their own health a priority. Using corporate wellness programs to prevent rather than cure is less costly to the company and the individual.

Topics: corporate wellness employee health worksite wellness disease prevention control healthcare costs

Is Employee Wellness an All-or-Nothing Strategy?

If you follow employee wellness, you may have heard recently that wellness programs at worst are largely ineffective and tend not to be worth the investment, and at best take years to produce results. That commentary found in a Wall Street Journal Health Blog was the assessment on a report produced by the National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR), which was based on research conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

The basic premise was this: If you can’t do wellness right, you should probably stay out of the game. It’s expensive, it’s confusing, and ROI is questionable. It’s true that the best and most robust programs cost money and require a well-developed strategy along with clear and vocal leadership support. These things are not easily gained. It’s also true that ROI is extremely hard to capture in wellness programs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted.

Zero TrendsThere is, however, another way to look at employee health and wellness: Something really is better than nothing. In his book Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, Dr. Dee Edington outlines the “Five Pillars of Health Management Strategy,” which are consistent with the NIHCR report. But he also points clearly and repeatedly to the value of stopping the current unhealthy trends—of not letting things get any worse.

Under the “don’t get any worse” banner, consider the potential value of a simple regular blood-pressure screening at the worksite. If one employee is flagged for high blood pressure during that screening, and he follows up accordingly with his doctor, your organization will bear some of the medical expense associated with his ongoing treatment of high blood pressure. You may have also just saved your organization a lot of money in catastrophic health care costs associated with chronically unmanaged high blood pressure. You’ve also created awareness for that employee that may lead to self-management efforts to improve his health.

Small businesses can enter the employee wellness program arena, and they don’t have to do it with the all the bells and whistles that the big businesses bring in, as evidenced by this Business News Daily report.

Where will you begin with employee wellness?

Topics: corporate wellness healthy workforce corporate fitness control healthcare costs

Corporate Fitness Programs Can Boost Employee Creativity

Employers are concerned with the ROI of corporate health wellness programs—and they should be. Why on earth would an organization put valuable resources toward strategies that don’t work for their business?

Are Brainstorming Meetings the Best Way to Foster Creativity?

If you're with me on the "don't throw money out the window" approach, let's take a quick look away from employee health and wellness. Let's focus instead on a corporate convention: the brainstorming meeting. Think conference room, Sharpies, flipcharts, and fresh fruit. (You do have fresh fruit at your meetings, right?!) In the brainstorming meeting, the company’s best thinkers pull together intellectually to flesh out ideas for the business's future. How much money does your company spend on brainstorming meetings in terms of staff time, office supplies, snacks, and overhead?

BrainstormingTurns out that corporate fitness programs might have a leg up on those Sharpies. According to a recent article in Newsweek, there are actually proven strategies for getting creative juices flowing, and traditional group brainstorming sessions aren’t on the list.

Exercise, it turns out, can be an effective brainstorming strategy. Up to 30 minutes of aerobic activity (like walking) can get those creative juices flowing. But there is one caveat: Exercise improves creativity only for people who are already fit.

Corporate Fitness Programs Have Many Benefits

Get your employees exercising now and it will save you money by helping control health care costs, decreasing absenteeism, improving productivity, and creating greater loyalty. In addition, your employees will be better thinkers who will keep your organization ahead of the pack.

How are you encouraging regular exercise in the workplace?

Topics: corporate wellness exercise at work control healthcare costs productivity

Employee Health: The Sweatier, the Better

Here’s some good news: You do not have to meet your sales Sweatquota to be considered among the elite at your worksite wellness center. All you have to do is start breaking a sweat.

According to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed the American Time Use survey and concluded that only 1 in 20 Americans engages in vigorous exercise on any given day. That’s right, a paltry 5% of us are working hard enough to actually sweat when we work out.

Why is this important to employee health as well as corporate health?

The way to sustained weight loss is through a healthy diet and prolonged cardiovascular exercise (45 to 60 minutes) at least five days per week. If you want members of your workforce to reach healthier body weights, you have to (among other things) create an environment that supports and provides opportunities for your employees to work out hard enough to sweat. You need to build a corporate health culture that supports breaking a sweat in your worksite fitness center.

What if businesses publicly rewarded the sweaty elite alongside the sales leaders? After all, employees who can help you control healthcare costs do as much for the bottom line as those who meet their sales quotas.

Topics: exercise at work employee health corporate fitness program healthy workforce control healthcare costs