By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
The degree to which obesity has taken root in American culture has all the attributes of a mass addiction. It took us as a culture 40 years to make progress in the fight against cigarette smoking, and some experts think that obesity may be an even more pernicious affliction.
As anyone who has tried to lose weight can attest, knocking off a few pounds in the first try isn't really all that hard. It's making the weight loss stick that is the real measure of progress. And so it goes with corporate and institutional weight-loss programs.
Companies can introduce measures and even get good results in the first go-around. But success over time is a tougher achievement.
When we talked to him in August, Paul Berger, the chief medical officer for Aon Consulting, shared five points that he says are crucial to attaining long-term success in a companywide effort to creating healthier workers through weight loss.
Here they are:
1. Senior management endorsement. According to Berger, no one is going to care about wellness if senior management doesn't.
2. An ongoing communications program. "By that I mean, if you communicate once during an open enrollment when people are selecting benefits, the message gets lost because they're thinking about their retirement plan, their disability plan, their dental plan. It's just too much, so if you kind of throw wellness programs in the middle of that, it's just going to get lost," Berger said.
Rather, Berger said communication about wellness and weight-loss programs has to be year-round, through a variety of media, be it print, Internet or posters on break room walls.
3. The incorporation of incentives or disincentives. "Again, this is from my vantage point almost totally culturally driven," Berger said. "Some people are into trinkets, some people are into cash. Some people respond when something is taken away from them if they don't do as told or suggested," he said. "So we see a wide variation of what we call value-based incentives and disincentives."
Berger knows of one large home furnishing company that, as an incentive for signing up for its wellness or condition management program, the employee's prescriptions will be filled at the generic co-pay price point.
"So that is pretty cool and saves the patient a lot of money and gets them enrolled," Berger said.
4. The grapevine. "If someone has a good experience with a wellness coach then, we'd like them to tell everyone about it. And that again could be through the Internet or a company newsletter, something in the break room. There is probably nothing more powerful than to get one employee engaged in one of these wellness programs than to have one of their buddies say, 'Hey, this was a good experience.' "
5. Have correct phone numbers. "You can't really engage someone in a wellness program if you can't find them," he said.
"You have to walk the walk," Berger concluded. "You have to make the activities around reducing weight part of what we do when we come to work."
October 1, 2009
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