Wellness programs have long been a mainstay of the insurance industry’s efforts to educate customers about ways to maintain and improve good health. Today, outreach methods are more sophisticated and effective in developing a consciousness about healthy behavioral change habits.
Lunchtime lectures, redesigned cafeteria menus, and wellness services accessible through assessments and media such as online tools, Webcams and podcasts are some of the ways that employees are kept informed about maintaining weight, reducing stress and identifying risk factors that contribute to creating a healthier lifestyle and managing or mitigating chronic conditions.
Smart Business spoke with Rose Gantner, Ed.D., senior director of health promotion for UPMC Health Plan of Pittsburgh, about how businesses can work with the health insurer to improve eating habits and why this is important.
Why is a wellness program important in a company setting?
Research supports that having a work-place culture in which everyone is on board about the measures they can take to improve health saves the company money, increases productivity and helps with employee creativity and retention. A national study conducted by the University of Michigan concluded that for every dollar invested in a wellness program, a firm reaped the equivalent of three dollars in savings. Health promotion programs are a hot trend now as businesses have realized that keeping people healthy is not only good for morale, but has a major influence on their ability to operate with fewer disruptions while engaging employees to mitigate risk factors as well as decreasing health care costs.
What are some ways to spread the word about the importance of eating well?
You can offer a series of different programs after conducting assessments on everything from food served in the company cafeteria, products stocked in vending machines and the level of employees’ knowledge about everything from calorie and fat intake to exercise. Your aim should be to make sure that you target specific interventions that address healthy living. Many of the features of some programs are free while others such as a weight management coaching program that allows session telephone consultations regularly for up to one year and with follow-up have an added fee. Reports provide employers with defined goals and outcomes from employee participation and completion.
What does it take for programs such as these to be successful?
Senior management must buy into the effort. Among other factors, their support and leadership demonstrates to the work force that the insurance company is not individually targeting people in order to lower health care costs but reviewing the aggregate data of their population and, more importantly, determining what strategies and incentives can be implemented to improve the employees’ well being. We approach our task in an interdisciplinary way by finding internal champions who can promote the benefits of sustaining healthy weight management throughout an organization.
Sixty-five percent of the American population is overweight, creating far-reaching consequences for most companies. Employers want a work force that continues to perform at its optimal best, but poor eating habits give rise to a whole host of circumstances that affect profitability. Workers’ compensation and disability claims drop, absenteeism is lowered, presenteeism the ability to focus on the work for longer periods of time improves and productivity rises.
Studies have shown it takes $45,000 on average to train and retrain a new mid-level worker. If a company can provide the tools that allow an employee to implement a healthy lifestyle or change his eating behavior, the cost of refilling a job that’s lost to illness is lowered substantially.
How do you teach healthy eating?
We’ll go into a company cafeteria and, working with the firm, help redesign the menu so that it offers more items that are high in fiber and a wide selection of foods that is both lower in calories and fat. We will create ‘dining smart’ cards; labels placed adjacent to a food item that show the nutritional information of each serving. Of course, the extent to which we redo the menu also depends on how much a firm is willing to spend to improve an often already-subsidized cafeteria program. We have seen that many companies will charge less for healthier foods, in order to encourage their consumption, and more for high-calorie and fat-laden products.
We offer lunch and learn programs during which UPMC nutritionists and certified health coaches lead discussions on healthy eating during the lunch hour and after work, and as the program spreads companywide, we often find that a number of workers have become enthusiastic about developing healthy eating habits. We then find these champions to show others how they, too, can lose weight and more importantly, maintain the sustainability of weight loss.
ROSE GANTNER, Ed.D., is the senior director of health promotion for UPMC Health Plan in Pittsburgh. Reach her at (412) 454-8571 or at email@example.com.