A New Way to Fight Workplace Obesity
The health and economic consequences resulting from an overweight and sedentary society are scary. As a member of the medical community, I want to do my part to help turn around a 30-year devastating epidemic threatening our population more than any other issue in the past 100 years. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), 67 percent of Americans are overweight, and that number is rising. Meanwhile, 75 percent of diseases can be traced to lifestyle choices such as eating and exercise habits.
Here at Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children’s in Southern California, I have made it my mission to help put a dent in the national problem by ensuring our 5,000 employees and their families are healthy and stay that way for a long time. For us, it means we can reduce our rising healthcare costs and improve our medical facilities’ economic well-being. Across corporate America, it costs employers an estimated $13,000 annually to provide premium healthcare benefits for a typical employee and her dependents. That number is increasing by 10 percent each year.
The Problem Hits Home Because healthcare is our business, those statistics are especially troubling. As we care for our patients and families, we sometimes forget to care for ourselves, and two-thirds of our employees are overweight.
After looking at our own company wellness program, it became clear employee participation was well below our expectations. We found it didn’t fully address all of our needs. One of the biggest questions we asked: “How can we motivate our employees to join the program, and most importantly, stay with it long-term?”
To get answers, we looked at what other companies were doing to improve employee health and motivate the workforce to participate in some sort of organized wellness program. We personally contacted a number of firms, including McDonald’s, Caterpillar and others, that were using company wellness approaches. Most of them were in their infancy, offering diet plans, changing food in their cafeterias, posting calories in their restaurants and menus. Very few did enough to motivate employees to participate and stick with the program, and even fewer took the whole family approach.
High-Tech to the Rescue
Our search took a positive turn when we found incentaHEALTH, a Denver-based firm, at the World Obesity Congress. We were particularly interested in how its newly developed employee wellness concept uses the latest technological advances, including fully automated private kiosks monitoring weight, blood pressure, body mass index and appearance. Additionally, it generates personalized reports with expert advice on nutrition, diet, exercise and other lifestyle best practices. But what makes it even more unique is its motivational approach-it pays employees to lose weight with cash and other rewards!
Since implementing the solution as part of our Good Life Employee Wellness Program last fall, more than one-fifth of our medical center employees have signed up and are staying with the program, motivated by the unique cash rewards for weight loss and their own desire to remain in top health.
Historically, employers have offered up to $50 just to sign up for a wellness program, whether they used it or not. What we are doing is changing that approach. Instead of luring employees with a cash sign-up bonus, we’re paying them for measured performance. Every level of success is rewarded. The amount of cash they receive is determined when they weigh in at strategically located and completely private HEALTHspot kiosks every 90 days. It could be as much as $150.
On the business side, it is still too early to calculate the bottom line savings, but we anticipate our costs for employee healthcare will be reduced significantly over time as these preventative measures help reduce insurance claims, absenteeism and turnover, while increasing productivity and morale.
Our Good Life Employee Wellness Program, using incentaHEALTH technology and motivational tools, most closely meets our vision for creating a meaningful lifestyle change, not simply a diet tending to fail in 80 to 90 percent of the cases in the short-term. We also were attracted to the unique application of technology, which authenticates health outcomes instead of relying on people to self-report. Because we are paying cash incentives, we don’t want somebody to send a friend down to weigh in for them.
With emphasis on nutrition, our program encourages employees and their family members to make reasonable food selection and control their portion size. One day a week, participants can enjoy food they crave and return to healthy eating habits the next day. Of course, exercise is a key element for burning those calories. We urge them to take walks on their breaks, using our campus “fitness walk” paths, and to use the stairs instead of the elevators. We have found among the population of U.S. organizations, only about 10 percent of the employees can truly make that lifestyle change for a full year and hopefully for the rest of their lives. In looking at what motivates that 10 percent, it was about two things,:1) excitement about getting paid to lose weight, and 2) being able to look in the mirror and fit into those old clothes. It is exciting to see our employees’ enthusiasm in our Good Life Employee Wellness Program, for their own health and that of their families. We hope what we are doing will serve as a role model to our community by supporting healthy lifestyles, beginning with well-motivated, long-term weight loss and maintenance.
Dr. Mark Roberts is the chief academics officer for Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Long Beach Memorial. He is responsible for many of the academic, research and continuing education initiatives for both Miller Children’s and Long Beach Memorial, where he serves as physician ambassador of the Good Life Employee Wellness Program. He has worked at Miller Children’s for more than a decade after serving as chief medical officer there.
incentaHEALTH is an innovative health care technology company based in Denver, Colorado. incentaHEALTH’s fully outsourced, employee weight management program is designed to help organizations reduce their health care costs by offering incentives to employees for improving their health. This is achieved by helping employees manage their weight through the use of interactive email coaching, workplace weigh-ins on private kiosks, and cash rewards for maintaining long term health improvements. For more information, visit http://www.incentaHEALTH.com.