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Patient Advocacy Group Shares Solutions to Fuel Greater Participation in Workplace Wellness Programs

Workplace wellness is not a new concept, but it is definitely one that is recently gaining more importance.

With non-communicable diseases on the rise, many people are becoming more concerned about what lifestyle choices can be made to avoid them and stay healthy. Furthermore, businesses recognize the cost of stressed, out of shape, non-productive employees: increased health insurance costs,absenteeism, retention problems, and loss in productivity. Trying to take a more active role in the health of their employees, employers are creating and implementing wellness programs that encourage healthy behavior. Through incentives and rewards, companies are encouraging their employees to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising regularly.

Melissa Kostinas

Melissa Kostinas

Despite the benefits of these programs, their success and sustainability can only be achieved through employee participation – which has been a challenging feat for many employers.  Without high participation, programs will result in limited return on investments for employers and might discourage them from implementing other programs in the future.  Because of this risk and the tug of war between cost and benefits, some companies find it too difficult and futile to implement workplace wellness programs.

Fortunately, there are solutions that help employers increase participation. First and foremost, companies should be focusing on the employees themselves – their needs, schedules, and interests – and design programs tailored to these considerations.

Employers should ask their employees: What gets you healthy? What motivates you to do what everyone knows is healthy behavior? We all have reasons for not doing what we know we should – time, access, knowledge, and cost. All these factors contribute to our denial.

Employees are busy, so the more a company can incorporate healthy eating and activity into existing schedules the more likely they are to embrace them. Easy access to workplace wellness programs makes a big difference. Onsite, or nearby programs offered during breaks or outside work hours also are great ways to tackle the time and access excuses.

Information and knowledge, while seemingly obvious, helps to motivate employees too. Of course we know we should exercise, but do your employees know that physical activity helps to prevent back pain?  It increases muscle strength and endurance, and improves flexibility and posture. With this knowledge, maybe the next time they get that twinge in their lower back they might think about exercise instead of painkillers. Providing reduced or no-cost programs will also boost participation rates. Coupled with incentives, like bonuses or rewards (e.g. allowing employees to trade in some of their unused sick days at the end of a year for an extra vacation day), rates of participation are likely to increase.

There are also management steps that can be taken to increase and maintain participation.

Unless employers are committed to employee wellness, the workplace wellness program becomes another ineffective plan that sounded good on paper but never achieved the anticipated results. The executives at Valley Health System understood the importance of managerial commitment. When they created Valley Health Workplace Connection the program managers worked closely with the health system’s managers to make sure all higher-level staff understood the importance of their involvement. Today, Valley Health Workplace Connection is a very successful workplace wellness program with high participation and employee satisfaction.

To ensure such success, workers from all levels should be actively engaged in programs. Planning should include processes to maintain communication with staff and the creation of program committees to guide intervention, observe participation, and adjust programs accordingly.

Additionally, program designers should consider all the major health risks in their targeted population as well as their business’ needs. Different programs should be offered at different levels, depending on characteristics of the recipients. The key is integrating health into the business. Policies governing the workplace wellness program should align with the organization’s mission, vision and values. They must affirm and communicate the value of good health and show commitment to engage workers in health enhancement. Again, a program is only effective if it reaches the intended audience and motivates them.

Pfizer recognized this and found that using programs like Keas got their employees more involved because it was engaging but less invasive. By making wellness a challenge and incorporating games and goals into the plan, Pfizer overcame the primary challenge in any wellness program — participation.

The bottom line is that wellness programs are gaining steam, but there are challenges. Having the support of management and creating a program that meets your employees’ needs will allow your program to overcome those challenges.  Be creative and remember: Wellness can be fun.

More Patients DASH to New Solution to Reduce High Blood Pressure: Part I

Shawn_J_Green

Shawn J. Green

What’s the solution to reversing the tide of hypertension, the most commonly diagnosed condition in the United States?  More evidence indicates that the answer begins with the food choices we make every day.

An underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease, one in three American adults now experiences high blood pressure – the single-largest contributor to death worldwide. It is also becoming more resistant to the pharmaceutical drugs used to lower it. In fact, blood pressure remains elevated in nearly one-third of all treated hypertensive patients on pharmaceutical drugs.

Instead of relying on prescriptions, more patients are turning to a healthier eating approach: Keeping sodium intake low and making consumption of nitric oxide-rich vegetables and leafy greens high. This cardio-protective daily diet, known as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, is emerging as an effective way to delay or prevent high blood pressure altogether.

The value of nitric oxide was spotlighted when the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1998 for discovery of this naturally produced cardio-protective factor. A string of clinical studies underscored that vegetables (like red beet roots) and leafy greens (such as spinach and arugula) are replete with nitric oxide.

Diets known for promoting heart health and lowering rates of diabetes and obesity – like Japanese diets, Mediterranean diets and plant-based diets, such as DASH, among others including TLC, Ornish, and Pritikin – incorporate these natural whole foods. The need to consume more nitric oxide-potent vegetables and leafy greens becomes even more critical as we age because our bodies are less able to synthesize this natural hypertensive-fighting factor.

Reducing hypertension would not only improve health outcomes for individual patients, but would also benefit the health system as a whole. Although the percentage of resistance to antihypertensive drugs is relatively lower in the U.S., elevated blood pressure among a rapidly growing number of baby boomers will mean more challenges for health care in the long run unless we identify tools that work and make them as accessible and user-friendly to the public as possible.

DASH holds great promise to fuel compliance – a critical driver to prevent elevated blood pressure – among those living with hypertension. But a healthful eating strategy alone will not mean better outcomes for patients without a model to help them break bad habits and support dietary changes on a personal level, one day at a time.

So how do we get there?

Join us here next Thursday for the second post in our two-part series. Discover what innovative tools can empower patients to make the DASH Diet a part of their arsenal in the fight against hypertension.

Good for Your Body and Your Budget

Does stocking your shelves with nutritious foods always mean breaking your budget at the grocery store or local market? You probably think the answer is yes, but what we found might shock you.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Dawn Undurraga, a consulting nutritionist for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and registered dietitian, tells a different story: Purchasing healthy foods and saving money can go hand in hand.

“Maintaining a delicious diet that’s good for you and the planet doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “You can eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables for less than the cost of a bus ride, for example. But people need the tools to help make this happen.”

And that’s exactly what the EWG “Good Food on a Tight Budget” free shopping guide provides, to help people eat cheap, clean, green and healthy.

“We focused on the things that you can do and the changes you can make to save money,” Undurraga says, based on recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as feedback from groups that have on-the-ground expertise empowering consumers to navigate through the issues surrounding tight budgets, like Feeding America and Share Our Strength.

This guide includes lists that open the door to purchasing foods with the most nutritional value for the lowest price, including 15 practical recipes that on average cost less than $1.

Tips enable shoppers to spend their dollars smartly, specifying which items are best to purchase frozen (like corn) or fresh (like lima beans), as well as how to prepare dishes at home and how to make your foods last longer.

One key recommendation for saving money on a nutritious eating regimen is to plan meals ahead, budget your time while shopping and to know what you want at the store beforehand.

“When you do, you’ll find you waste less food. Not wasting food by having a good plan can save you money too. When you shop with a meal list and a timeline, you can get in and out of a store quickly,” without going outside your budget by getting distracted and purchasing less healthy foods you don’t want or need, Undurraga explains.

The EWG created “Good Food on a Tight Budget” based on specific measures to establish the amount of pesticides that the foods contain, also comparing and rating the foods to organize the guide on a balance of five factors.

  • Beneficial nutrients
  • Nutrients to minimize (i.e. sodium)
  • Price
  • Extent of processing
  • Harmful contaminants from environmental pollution and food packaging

The USDA also underscores that planning your meals for the week and doing an inventory of foods you already have before making a list are essential. They also encourage buying non-perishables in bulk during sales and to purchase foods in season to get the lowest prices while optimizing freshness.

Similar strategies for making healthy shopping choices on a budget can also be found herehere and here.

All the research, planning and preparation involved in being a selective shopper might seem daunting at first, but the payoff to your health and budget is worth the investment.

“There’s so many ways to put together a diet. The shoppers who often make the most of their budget are those already on a tight budget. It’s tough but possible,” when you incorporate approaches that work best for you, Undurraga says.

Have you used any of these tips when grocery shopping? Did they help make it easier to purchase healthy foods and stay within your financial means? Tell us why or why not.

Categories: Cost-Savings