The Well-Being Journal

Is Your Boss Making You Fat?

Jennifer Rudloff

Are you overweight or obese? How about the person sitting next to you? What about the other side? Chances are your answer to two out of three of these questions is “yes.” The reason is, two out of three (67%) Americans are overweight or obese. I don’t know how that makes you feel but it makes me disappointed for two reasons. 1.) I am a 35 year veteran of health promotion; some days stats like this make me feel like the cancer researcher who studied the disease for 35 years and retired never finding a cure. 2.) It’s something within people’s control, yet, we’ve failed to motivate individuals to control it. To me that’s a sad commentary on America, a country that made itself great by our work ethic, motivation, and fortitude.

Add obesity to chronic illness (many of the same behaviors that cause obesity also cause chronic illness) and things get worse for corporate America. 86% of America’s full-time workforce is overweight or has a chronic health condition. This causes an estimated 450 million lost work days each year resulting in a cost of more than $153 billion annually in lost productivity, according to findings released yesterday and included in EBN . To contrast, this is four times higher than our friends across the pond in the UK. If you include part time workers and other measures of presenteeism, the picture gets much worse. "Other research that has examined a broader array of factors using a somewhat different list of chronic conditions places the economic effect of lost productivity at $1.1 trillion per year," the study said.

It’s interesting to look at the evolution of knowledge over the years: In graduate school I was taught that weight was all about metabolism; balance the calories taken in with the calories burned and the problem of maintaining a healthy weight is solved. Later I learned it wasn’t that easy. Things like stress cause hormonal changes that influence our propensity to gain weight. OK, that made sense. However, recent findings from the Well-Being Index and Well-Being Assessment are a little more intriguing. We can show that the financial resources a person has available or the amount of recognition you get at work have as high a correlation to Body Mass Index, as does your eating and physical activity behaviors. So, perhaps a bad boss can make you fat, even if indirectly.

While we don’t yet understand exactly how this works, it it seems to go something like this. People who have emotional or social burdens, such as a frustrating work environment, lack of time to spend with their friends, care-giving responsibilities for a close relative, financial problems, or marital strife simply have less time, energy, interest, and propensity to follow the behaviors that result in a healthy weight. So, a less than supportive boss may not make you fat directly, but it is a factor in an employee’s ability, or lack of ability, to take good care of him or herself. So, an organization with a lot of bad bosses can experience significant negative impact from having an overweight or obese population that manifests itself in poor physical health, as well as the poor business performance of the organization.

We have implemented a number of strategies with our own people that appear to be producing results. Things like providing our colleagues the option of walking workstations, and having healthy food options in our cafe (and no fryers). We have workout Wednesdays where people can dress for fitness all day, and attend one of our many fitness classes at work. While some of these ideas may not be practical in your company, many things are. Humans make thousands of mini-decisions all day and helping people be mindful of how to make the healthy choice the easy choice can pay big dividends. For instance, if you can help your people be mindful of making the high calorie burn choice their action of choice, sustainable weight loss can be achieved. Using the stairs rather than the elevators and escalators 10 times a day burns 60 more calories. 60 more calories burned for every workday, minus vacation time, results in about 5 pounds of weight loss per year. To make it even easier for people, dress up the stairwells. Hang paintings, play music, and paint the walls bright colors – use your creativity.

Obesity is a huge issue in the US and I don’t want to trivialize what it takes to improve it. However, it isn’t rocket science either. Do you have a creative idea? If so, share it with us.

Topics: Healthy Living Obesity Weight Loss Workplace Well-Being Business Performance Health Promotion Prevention Chronic Disease Boss Making you fat? Overweight Lost Productivity

Great Habits Make for Great Results!

Jennifer Rudloff

Woman eating healthyNow is the perfect time to reaffirm your commitment to your healthy diet and fitness goals.

Holiday festivities are just around the corner. This year, give yourself the gift of fitness! By planning ahead, you can avoid the weight gain, disappointment and (ever so common) Sprint & Fizzle of New Year's resolutions.

Sticking to an exercise & diet regime takes time, effort and commitment. Having support can make the difference between success and reverting back to old unhealthy habits. Finding a supportive friend, training partner, family member or online forum will go a long way towards helping you stay focused and motivated.

Staying fit is an ongoing lifestyle choice.

Here are some great suggestions that will lead to your success:

  • The simple act of READING about eating healthy and different ways to stay on track can make a big difference! You’ll subconsciously recall something you read and act upon even without realizing you are doing it.
  • The simple act of LOOKING at images that reflect your goals can make a big difference! Put a picture, article or motivational statement on your refrigerator door. Be sure it really inspires YOU. Look at it and think of what it means to you every time you think of opening the door or walk by.
  • Set realistic goals that can be met and maintained in the midst of day to day activities and responsibilities.
  • Let go of thinking in terms of ‘on’ or ‘off’ The Diet. Just be aware of what you eat & make good healthy, low calorie choices TODAY.
  • Limit portion size. 2 bowls taste the same as 2 bites. Pay attention to when you are ‘full’ and when you are eating it because it is there.
  • Limit soda and drink more water. Staying hydrated helps curb appetite.
  • Leave food on the stove. Fill your plate with less than you think you want and go sit down. You will be less likely to go back for more.
  • Balance your choices. Drop the ‘all or nothing’ thinking. If you treat yourself today, then make up for it by eating stricter and less calories tomorrow. Develop a healthy, guilt free relationship with food.
  • Don’t punish yourself or beat yourself up, but rather keep moving forward with your overall plan. The only way you will not get there is by standing still. Keep going!
  • Find ways to get exercise that you enjoy enough to do faithfully.
  • Do you 'stuff' your anger or eat to 'fill the void’ of boredom, loneliness or other emotions? Feel it, don’t eat it! Take action instead. Bored? Lonely? Go for a walk or call a friend.
  • Reward yourself! Every single day you are taking one step closer to your goal and practicing the habits that will help you maintain forever. Celebrate, acknowledge and enjoy!
  • Set yourself up to succeed! Maintain your desired weight and fitness level with an exercise and meal planning schedule that fits into your personal lifestyle.

By setting healthy lifestyle goals and reaching them, you will find joy, energy, self-confidence and new emotional coping tools that do not involve food.

Many people successfully attain and maintain their weight and fitness goals. You can, too!

Topics: Healthy Living Focus Exercise Motivation Social Well-Being Habits Diet

Financial Wellness, From Wall Street to Your Street

Jennifer Rudloff

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 34 days, you’re sure to have heard of the movement spreading across the globe dubbed Occupy Wall Street. While the people involved in this movement have yet to rally behind a single purpose, or for that matter have any answers, one thing I think everyone can agree on is the palpable sense of financial and economic frustration our nation is facing.

From Wall Street to your street, our nation is growing more and more negative about personal finances and the national economy. Today, 22% of adults are reporting that their personal financial situation is “poor” -- to contrast, during the official recession reports came in between 16%-19%. Optimism is waning; nearly half (48%) of adults say their financial situation is getting worse. And it’s easy to see why when you look at the trends. A recent article published in USA Today stated that in America, over the past 3 years, median household income fell nearly 10%. With a staggering 77% of people living paycheck to paycheck, millions of Americans are suffering restless nights as they struggle with unemployment, debt, inflation, healthcare costs and basic living expenses.

The September WBI report paints a picture of the current state of our nation—and we’re feeling low. Sadly Americans’ access to basic necessities dropped to it’s lowest point in four years with 20% of Americans reporting they don’t have enough money to buy food. Financial issues alone impact so many other areas of well-being – lack of money means more stress, less happiness, fewer healthy behaviors, skimping on healthcare, and likely discontent with work, which all results in reduced engagement and productivity.

For your organization, helping your people to reduce financial stress can have big rewards— increased engagement, reduced healthcare costs and increased productivity. So how do you help? While it may be tough to find the money to increase wages for your workforce or hire more people, there are steps that can be taken to help your people better manage their money. Getting your people the help they need may start with simply educating them!

At Healthways we recently partnered with Dave Ramsey and conducted a financial wellness pilot with more than 80 of our colleagues. In addition to a series of online lessons, there were also 8 weekly workshops. During the course of the program, participants learned about saving, how to work with family members for financial success, cash flow planning, dumping debt, credit, insurance, purchasing behaviors, investing, bargain hunting, strength utilization, real estate and mortgages, shopping, retirement planning, and more. The result? Our colleagues learned lessons in how to do more with less. Over 13 weeks, participants collectively reduced their consumer debt by more than $174K. Pretty impressive.

Remember, financial stress isn’t only an issue for low-income workers. It impacts people across all age and income demographics. How will you help your people help themselves?

Topics: Financial Well-Being In the News Workplace Well-Being Occupy Wall Street Wall street

Colleagues Care: Books for Africa

Jennifer Rudloff

Have you ever wondered what to do with all the books you have been collecting, especially from college? I wondered the same thing about 4 years ago when I went through my bookshelf during the spring-cleaning that we all love to accomplish yearly. In the process, I not only discovered multiple books from college where the school changed books every semester (leaving it up to me to keep it or sell it online with a huge loss), but I also found books I purchased for personal knowledge accumulating dust. Yikes!!!

At that moment I decided to send some of my college books to Ethiopia where the second edition of Microbiology is being used in most universities while outdated in United States due to newer released editions. I reached out to some individuals who were traveling to Ethiopia to take books with them, but it was difficult since there is a luggage weight limit. At the same time, sending two to three books at a time and locating a traveler became a challenge of its own. At some point, I even checked out international shipping prices but I found it to be too expensive. After couple of searches and conversations, I connected with a friend who has heard about an organization named Books For Africa; also known as BFA.

I immediately started looking up this organization and learned that they are a perfect destination for my “outdated” books. Incredibly, this organization actually collects, sorts, ships and distributes books in Africa. BFA has shipped over 1.9 million books to 21 African countries in 2011 and has shipped 24 million high-quality text and library books in 45 countries since 1988.

In 2007, I joined to support them in collecting and shipping any and all books that I can get my hands on to their warehouse in Georgia for BFA’s shipment to Africa. So if you are like me and have wondered or are wondering what to do with books, check out their website. You will create some extra space on your shelf, provide access to education for a long-term sustainable solution in Africa, and improve your well-being in the process.

Topics: Healthy Living Community Books for Africa Donate Community Service Education

Workforce Well-Being: Blue Collar vs White Collar

Jennifer Rudloff

John Harris, Chief Well-Being Officer at Healthways, talks about our findings on well-being as they relates to blue collar and white collar workers. In this video, you'll learn more about the challenges impacting the well-being of your people and will gain insights into how to better engage your population based on their needs.

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Topics: Well-Being John Harris Workplace Well-Being Engagement Business Performance Wellness Life Evaluation Healthways Wellness Program

Connecting Consumer Voice

Jennifer Rudloff

Man on BenchIf you were hoping to develop a program that would appeal to the interests of mac users, it’s unlikely that you’d turn to PC users for advice. The same principles apply with well-being improvement solutions: In order to develop engaging healthcare solutions we must turn to our end users and understand their attitudes and motivations. Enter Healthways Well-Being Voice™, a newly created, on-line community of over 500 working and retired healthcare consumers who express their opinions, ideas, and attitudes, describing behaviors and motivations for improving their overall health and wellness among other topics:

  • Employer benefit program structure, incentives, and rewards
  • The role of and importance of communications
  • Perceptions of existing and potential products, solutions or services as well as reactions to marketing and web content ideas

The research community fosters collaborative input from individuals at varying health risk levels who deal with any of a number of chronic conditions in areas such as emotional/behavioral health, diabetic/metabolic and cardiovascular conditions, as well as those dealing with overweight and/or obesity issues. This is one of the first on-line social communities in which all aspects of Well-Being are potentially discussed, providing rich qualitative understanding to consumers needs.

Recently, we’ve gathered and applied insights in the following areas:

  • Listening to consumer definitions of Well-Being in their own words, members discuss the important balance between physical and emotional health. People describe details to us about their views of happiness, prosperity and the important role of family, friends and enjoying the activities of their choice.
  • Members share personal stories, sometimes coupled with photos submitted from times in their lives when they took significant measures to improve their health and they detail of the factors that influenced them. This is providing Healthways added consumer perspectives about behavioral change, incentive insights and engagement that we apply into our mission to enhance Well-Being Improvement Solutions for our clients and guide the development of new markets.
  • Nearly all of our members are mentioning challenges in diet, adhering to medication, exercise regularity and for some, smoking cessation. We’re getting wonderful stories from community members. One member noted that in the years following his military service, he realized he had a tendency to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Once he returned to a more vigorous regiment of exercise, he found many health risks diminishing and his overall health improved. Another described how just a single flight of stairs resulted in shortness of breath which drove his own story of change. And another women described how the early loss of a parent resulted in personal motivation to slowly yet steadily move towards a healthier diet for her and her family.

Healthways certainly benefits from this community as we apply direct consumer voice and opinion into our suite of engaging solutions for total population health. But we’re not the only beneficiaries. The community members themselves are finding the interactions and introspections rewarding. As one commented, “It's great to find others on here where we share so much in common!” There’s no better way to learn than to learn from one another.

Topics: Market Research Workplace Well-Being Well-Being Voice Business Performance Community Needs Assessment Healthways Well-Being Voice Well-Being Improvement Solutions Healthways Wellness Program Online Community Consumers

The Power of Purpose: Lessons From a Legend

Jennifer Rudloff

When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, how often do you hear IRS Auditor or factory worker? More likely they dream big or chase adventure and hope to become our future firemen, sports stars, ballerinas, or zoologist (my personal favorite). Childhood is a time of innocence where any dream is a possible dream and there are no preconceptions, practical notions and pressures creeping in to cause doubt. If a person could approach their entire life with this mentality, it would help to free them from both the real and imaginary constraints that guide their paths and allow them to experience the wonder of what might be. However, more often as we age and learn life’s lessons the pure pursuit of purpose and passion get lost amidst expectations and responsibility.

Blue Zones researchers have found that people who have a clear sense of purpose in life tend to live about seven years longer than those who do not. Yet 46% of men and 40% of women say they’re still trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of their life. Another survey found that 50% of Americans say they’d make a different choice today then they did when they first entered the job market. Perhaps pressures or expectations on them caused them to settle for something they knew they were good at rather than discovering and pursuing how they could be great.

While his life was tragically cut short by cancer, Steve Jobs understood the power of individual purpose. He stood tall in the face of adversity and settled for nothing -- always asking ‘What’s next’. This simple question is what led him to become a cultural icon that shaped the lives of millions. While he stood apart from others in so many ways, his desire to ‘put a dent in the universe’ is innate within us all. He had a firm grasp on his gifts and let them guide his passions and curiosities. And in doing so he uncovered his unique purpose and he had the courage to own it. The way he lived and experienced his life is a wonderful example to us all.

So how can this apply to your organization? Think about the engagement level you’d see if all of your employees understood their purpose and felt that they were working towards it when they stepped through your doors each day. Lincoln Industries is attempting to bridge the gap through helping their people discover their strengths and cultivate energy around individual and collective purpose. They offer life planning classes to their people which helps them develop a personalized, living, evolving plan that guides thoughts behaviors and actions toward their defined purpose.

I’ll leave you with this advice from the late Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Topics: Healthy Living Workplace Well-Being Community Steve Jobs Purpose Well-Being

Reflections from The HERO

Jennifer Rudloff

A couple of weeks ago the Health Enhancement Research Organization, also known as HERO held its bi-annual Think Tank meeting and Forum (the HERO version of a conference) in Phoenix Arizona. After having some time to reflect on both of those meetings, I would like to share some of my reactions with you. Let me start with the Think Tank.

The Think Tank brings employee health management (EHM) experts together bi-annually to exchange ideas, expertise, and recommendations in an effort to solve problems and react to opportunities. Members of the think tank have a major role in the creation and dissemination of national EHM policy, strategy, leadership and infrastructure. During the most recent session we addressed three subjects: (1) the role of consumer directed initiatives and personal responsibility in health care, (2) the impact of an aging workforce and actions that must be taken both domestically and internationally, and (3) the role of financial incentives in the health management industry. As you might imagine, the use of incentives drew significant debate so let me expound upon that discussion.

Overall the field is fairly supportive of the use of financial incentives to drive participation in health management programs. However, we also agree that while financial incentives can drive participation, little evidence exists to show that financial incentives alone change behavior. The lightning rod seems to be the use of incentives to reward “health outcomes” as it is defined in The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Such incentives reward people for keeping biometrics such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and body fat within reasonable limits. The opinions on this issue varied widely at the HERO Think Tank.

From my experience I know that all employers are different. As the result, I believe America’s employers need the latitude to put in place the incentive programs that work best for them, based on their cultures and their business environments. We do not need further regulation regarding incentives. Instead, the pros and cons of various incentive programs should be evaluated so that employers can make discriminating choices that support the needs of their people and culture. Others may disagree with my perspective. For instance, American Heart Association has distributed position statements taking the view that outcomes-based incentives tied to health plan or self-insured company premium costs are unfair and discriminatory, instead advocating for ‘‘participation-based’’ incentives. Their fear appears to be that such incentives could lead to the mistreatment (including greater cost burden) of people with existing disease. While an understanding view points, current law already provides many safeguards and people who take good care of themselves already pay a disproportionate amount of the health care cost burden.

Regardless of our individual views, the one thing that the think tank fully agrees on is that as an industry, we must speak with a united voice. Articles by Michael O’Donnell, and by Paul Terry and David Anderson have done a nice job of advocating for the “one voice” approach.

The HERO Forum was also an enlightening experience. Highlights were the following:

  • Many companies are going back to the basics. Part of the format at the HERO Forum is to have “How To Do It” workshops where best-practice health management programs are highlighted. This year many of the professionals guiding these programs described how they were getting back to the basics of superior program planning, setting clear objectives, communicating their programs effectively, generating engagement through creative approaches, and measuring outcomes effectively.
  • People were networking and discussing some of the most timely topics in health management. Many good ideas were discussed in areas like the broader view of well-being, program integration, and the impact of work culture on health management success.
  • The research showing the efficacy of health management is continuing to advance and HERO is leading the way.
  • There are many breakthroughs in the area of participant engagement that involve superior communications, incentives, program positioning, and the ability to use new media and technology in the effort.
  • The use of small actions and social media in effectively advancing behavior change was addressed by Chris Cartter, General Manager of MeYou Health, in the closing keynote. Chris provided deep insights into this topic.

Both the HERO Think Tank and the Forum were well attended and the sessions and debate were provocative. If you are not a member of HERO, I urge you to consider getting involved. If you were there, what were your impressions and biggest takeaways?What are your thoughts on the incentive debate? Please share.

Topics: HERO Think Tank Workplace Well-Being Healthcare Engagement Business Performance Health Financial Incentives for Health Management Program Events Health Enhancement Research Organization