About Wellness Corporate Solutions

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"The Blue Zones": Linking Behavior, Good Health, and Lower Costs

Newsweek magazine recently published an excellent article underscoring the link between healthy behavior changes and lower health care costs. But as every wellness professional knows, simply telling people to make changes isn't effective. Michelle Obama said as much last week when she launched her new initiative against childhood obesity. If we're to put the nation back on the path to good health, a more comprehensive effort is required.

Dan Buettner, the author of The Blue Zones, created the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project to promote healthy behavior--not by edict, but by actually changing people's environment in fundamental ways. Read about what happened in Albert Lea, Minnesota:
The city laid new sidewalks linking residential areas with schools and shopping centers. It built a recreational path around a lake and dug new plots for community gardens. Restaurants made healthy changes to their menus. Schools banned eating in hallways (reducing the opportunities for kids to munch on snack food) and stopped selling candy for fundraisers. (They sold wreaths instead.) More than 2,600 of the city's 18,000 residents volunteered, too, selecting from more than a dozen heart-healthy measures—for example, ridding their kitchens of supersize dinner plates (which encourage larger portions) and forming "walking schoolbuses" to escort kids to school on foot.

The results were stunning. In six months, participants lost an average of 2.6 pounds and boosted their estimated life expectancy by 3.1 years. Even more impressive, health-care claims for city and school employees fell for the first time in a decade—by 32 percent over 10 months. And benefits didn't accrue solely to volunteers. Thanks to the influence of social networks, says Buettner, "even the curmudgeons who didn't want to be involved ended up modifying their behaviors."
I can't think of a better argument for corporate wellness programs. When companies make small but fundamental changes to promote health--just as this town did--a culture of wellness develops and people begin to choose healthier behaviors. And if you have "curmudgeons" in your organization who you think would never participate in a wellness program, re-read the last sentence of the excerpt above.

I encourage you to read the entire Newsweek article. The authors offer several suggestions for changes we can make to encourage healthier behavior, and I think you'll find some of them provocative. Leave your reactions in the comments section below.

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