In the past century, medical advancements in the United States have been remarkable. The awareness and understanding of most diseases has excelled with more accurate screening and testing procedures, and pharmaceutical drugs are now available for nearly every condition.
Life expectancy is increasing, but at what point did quality of life deteriorate?
In 2012 half of all Americans – or 117 million – had one or more chronic health conditions.1 Chronic conditions include: heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, respiratory illness, liver disease and arthritis.
More alarming, is the trend that many of these problems are occurring earlier in life. Type 2 diabetes was predominantly a disease of the middle-aged and elderly, hence the former name, adult-onset diabetes. In recent decades, the age of onset for type 2 diabetes has decreased with the disease now affecting adolescents and children.
Numbers rising in these younger age groups parallel increasing rates of obesity, as more than 20% of U.S. children are obese, a staggering increase from 5% reported in 1980.2 In the adult population, greater than 66% are overweight, with 33% being classified as obese.3 Quality of life has also decreased in the 53 million individuals diagnosed with arthritis, half of which report pain with everyday activity.4
Emotionally, Americans are the most tense population, and we report the poorest work life balance in history. Despite medical advancements, chronic illness is increasing and quality of life is decreasing.
So what’s going on? The cause and the solution are clear. The very foundation of good health – a daily lifestyle composed of proper diet, daily activity and adequate rest, has been neglected and must be rebuilt. This does not require more medical technology or drugs. It requires a return to the fundamentals of inspired healthy living, and understanding that one-size fits all corporate wellness programs don’t get results.
Workplace Health Programs Are A Step In The Right Direction
The good news from the perspective of employees is that workplace wellness programs are becoming more prominent and can be part of the solution. However, not all workplace wellness programs are created equal, nor are all employees the same. We often see a one-size fits all model for various degrees of risk, that lacks personalization and understanding of a participant’s needs. There are many factors to consider when choosing a workplace wellness program.
Many workplace wellness programs only address one attribute of health, such as nutrition or exercise. Some diet programs still encourage low fat foods despite their higher sugar content and detriment to health, while others promote too much exercise too soon, causing unnecessary injury and lack of sustainability.
Successful workplace health programs should be education based and integrate nutrition, activity and behavioral wellbeing. These programs include weight management led via dietary education, exercise programming and behavior management specific to the participant, and personalized health coaching to keep participants on track to meet their unique goals. Stress management and the cessation of smoking are also addressed, as each increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers.
The use of objective measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol are included, and effort is made to explore different motivators that resonate with different participants. Personalized health coaching and tailored social health groups to support and maximize success are often included. Advanced workplace health programs are now examining genetics as a way to offer an even greater degree of personalization in order to inspire and engage participants to stay focused on the daily fundamentals.
In the last few decades, as our work and home life have become busier, we’ve neglected the very foundation of health – our daily healthy lifestyle. It is now clear that simply returning to the fundamentals and prioritizing a healthy lifestyle is the solution. Workplace health programs are proving to be an effective launching ground to promote and inspire these changes.
As long as the right level of personalization is in place, negative health trends can be reversed, and our focus can return to disease prevention instead of disease management – isn’t that what ‘health’ care is all about?
- Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple chronic conditions among US adults: a 2012 update. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:130389.
- CDC: Child Obesity Facts
- NIH: Overweight and Obesity Statistics
- Barbour KE, Helmick CG, Theis KA, et al. Prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation—United States, 2010-2012. MMWR. 2013;62(14):869-73.