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wellness digest—week of october 17

October 24, 2011

in wellness digest

a roundup of last week’s news that caught my interest.

1. ailing and overweight americans cost billions in productivity

readers often comment that interest in workplace wellness will disappear when employer-provided benefits do. perhaps not. these figures underscore why countries with nationalized health systems invest in wellness.

“Full-time U.S. workers who have chronic health troubles or are overweight cost more than $153 billion in lost productivity each year from absenteeism, according to a Gallup-Healthways study released on Monday.”

2. wal-mart cuts some health care benefits 

wal-mart will no longer provide health benefits to spouses and future part-time employees, reversing its eligibility expansion from just a few years ago. wal-mart’s also adding a tobacco surcharge and decreasing funding for health savings accounts. will this be the “shot heard ’round the world?” when it comes to employer-provided benefits?

“These moves are also occurring in a postrecession period when Wal-Mart has been struggling to regain its footing after months of disappointing or flat sales. And with unemployment still hovering around 9 percent, employers may feel less compelled to offer expansive benefits to people desperate for work.”

3. workplace wellness programs should focus on improvement, not participation

this article reports on a white paper by staywell health management that emphasizes the need to personalize wellness programs—and their incentives—so they direct and support the individual, not the masses.

“Rather than just rewarding specific outcomes, a progress-based approach offers all employees an opportunity to earn incentives regardless of where they are on the health continuum. For instance, an employee who is at risk for obesity could earn an incentive for actively participating in programs that address nutrition and physical activity rather than being incented for achieving a specific body mass index.”

4. prevention vs. treatment and the perverse incentives inflating the costs of healthcare

this huffington post article offers a few thoughts on why we focus less on prevention and more on disease management.

“Let’s consider, for example, the incentives around America’s #1 killer: heart disease. This malady is responsible for about one in four lives lost in the US. What causes heart disease? At the most basic level: poor eating, low physical activity, and smoking. It follows then, that if the goal was to minimize death and suffering resulting from heart disease, the health system would invest in improving diets, increasing physical activity, and eliminating smoking. The system would devote its resources and most talented minds to advising patients about their health habits at regular office visits with general practitioners—well before they ever developed a symptom. But here’s the problem: in our system, primary care office visits aren’t exactly procedures. Not surprisingly, they don’t bill very much, and the system doesn’t invest very much into them.

“By stark contrast, consider what happens to people after years of smoking, eating poorly, and being physically inert: They get heart attacks. In our procedure-oriented system, that’s when you hear the “cha-ching” of the money rolling in.”

5. moving out of high-poverty areas may lower obesity, diabetes risk

federal housing officials conducted a long-term study that involved moving single-parent households into low-poverty areas and then tracking their outcomes, economic and otherwise. the researchers found some surprising results: the mothers’ economic and employment status didn’t change, but their health did.

“‘Oftentimes, research really focuses on people’s decisions, and what they do wrong, and how they are at fault, essentially, for being obese or having a disease or a poor diet,’ says Blanchard, who was not involved in the study. ‘This provides evidence that it’s not just the individual’s decisions, but…also the environment—the neighborhood—that really does matter.’”

any interesting article, report or blog post you want to share?

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