Monday, August 25, 2008

Let’s Spread a Little Wellness

If you receive our employer newsletter, Wellness in the Workplace, you know we’re promoting what we call “viral wellness.” All side effects are positive, and you don’t need (or want) a “cure.” We know illness is contagious, and studies have shown that obesity / overweight could be considered contagious since among families and groups of overweight or obese friends it becomes “normalized.” Therefore—contagious. The benefits of wellness too are contagious, reflected in healthier lifestyles, and for employers, healthier profits.

It takes time to build a culture of wellness. It happens over time, person by person, family by family, employee by employee. That's what viral wellness is about. But, first you have to catch it—really get it.

An estimated 30 to 45 percent of medical claims today are directly attributable to lifestyle choices such as obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and physical inactivity. It is also the largest contributing factor to a number of chronic diseases, which contribute to 57 percent of all deaths annually in the U.S. In fact, obesity is now more costly to U.S. companies than smoking or alcoholism.

We know most of us want to be well, and if we have a reasonable expectation of success, we will make positive changes in our daily choices. Once we prove to ourselves we can be successful, we become enthusiastic advocates for the strategy that helped us meet our goals. And this is how 'viral wellness' spreads, not only within an organization but to family, friends and the community.

So, here’s wishing we all catch an incurable case of wellness and that it becomes an international pandemic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve read posts on overweight, obesity, fast food, junk food, kids and television, and even the impact obesity has on global warming—and you’ve read some pretty scary statistics dealing with what all of this is costing us.

You’ve also probably picked up on the fact that LoneStart is a Wellness program, and as such works with organizations and individuals to create both a habit and culture of wellness—it’s about making better nutritional choices and finding ways to become more physically active. And, while LoneStart was not developed as a smoking cessation program per se, we’ve received feedback from participants who have applied the LoneStart principles to “unhealthy” choices such as smoking, and have been successful in their efforts. So this post will provide a few scary statistics in this area as well.

  • American employers spend an additional $753 per year in medical costs on smokers.
  • An additional $68 billion in medical care is spent each year in the U.S. on tobacco deaths.
  • Smokers miss an average of two or more workdays per year than nonsmokers and cost employers $47 billion per year in lost productivity.

As we know, wellness is about improving health—and smoking is just one risk factor. It is also a major contributor to chronic illness, as are obesity, overweight and physical inactivity. While 23 percent of the population in the U.S. smokes, 65 percent is obese or overweight. In fact, by 2012, just four years from now, three of four adults are expected to be overweight or obese.

What happens when health care costs reach the point where employers say we’re not going to hire someone who is overweight or obese or who smokes? What happens when smokers, overweight and obese employees are fired for their unhealthy lifestyle choices?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Loaded Meals

These meals are loaded –but not with nutrition. And our kids are filling up on them at many of the top restaurant chains. If you’re not familiar with the statistics already—you should be.

A report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest looked at the nutritional quality of kids’ meals at 13 major restaurant chains—and found 93 percent of the 1,474 possible choices exceed 430 calories. That amount is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day. An example cited in the report: A Chili’s Bar and Grill meal of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk contained 1,020 calories. Another meal of cheese pizza, homestyle fries and lemonade contained 1,000 calories. Then there’s the Burger King “Big Kids” meal with a double cheeseburger, fries and chocolate milk at 910 calories.

In addition to excessive calories, the report found that 45 percent of children’s meals exceeded recommendations for saturated and trans fat (which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease), and that 86 percent of the children’s meals are too high in sodium. The report also notes that eating out now accounts for a third of children’s daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home 30 years ago.

Here’s a question to ponder: What are we doing to our children in the name of convenience?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Looking for a magic pill?

Physical activity is it. All the side effects are positive—and it treats the following (and more):

  • Moderate daily physical activity can reduce substantially the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, gallbladder disease and certain cancers, such as colon cancer. Daily physical activity helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, helps prevent or retard osteoporosis, and helps reduce obesity, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and symptoms of arthritis.

  • 37% of adults report they are not physically active. Only 3 in 10 adults get the recommended amount of physical activity.

  • Significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount of physical activity (e.g., 30 minutes of brisk walking or raking leaves, 15 minutes of running, 45 minutes of playing volleyball). Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity.

  • Thirty to sixty minutes of activity can be broken into smaller segments of 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day and still deliver significant health benefits.
  • Adults 18 and older need 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days a week to be healthy; children and teens need 60 minutes of activity a day for their health.

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. Physically inactive people are twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease as regularly active people.

  • 41 million Americans are estimated to have pre-diabetes. Most people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, unless they make changes to their diet and physical activity that results in a loss of about 5-7 percent of their body weight.

And, it’s free! It costs each of us nothing but a little time and a little effort. It doesn’t involve health insurance reimbursement, Medicare or Medicaid payments and requires no government involvement or funding.

It’s not magic—just common sense.