Habit Change Experts – The Missing Element in Traditional Chronic Disease Prevention Programs

Chronic disease is a pandemic in the U.S., costing employers, health plans, and the entire health system billions each year. We’ve seen this growing wave building for years but it’s been challenging to slow it down, let alone reverse the trend. This is why so many companies and health plans have invested in disease prevention and management programs, hoping to mitigate the impact, and for good reason. High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity together cost employers around $36.4 billion annually due to absenteeism and lost productivity.

Most disease prevention and management programs have positive engagement rates when they’re first launched, but participation wanes after just a few months. There are many reasons for the fall-off. Often, participants don’t see the results they were hoping for fast enough so they lose motivation, or they may lack support from family and friends.

The challenge for employers and health plans is how to take that early engagement and make it last long enough to see sustained health improvements and lower costs. To be truly effective, solutions need to be built around habit change, not just education. For example, a person who’s just been released from the hospital after having a diabetes episode may be assigned a case manager. The case manager will offer the individual brochures or other resources about the importance of diet and exercise, as well as guidance about how to test blood glucose levels and take medications. The individual may have regularly scheduled follow-up calls with the case manager, calls they may or may not follow through with.

Transforming information into habit change

The bottom line is that education and periodic check-ins don’t necessarily result in long-term health improvements. Individuals need more; they need to know how to take that information and turn it into action. This is where habit change experts come into play. Habit change experts are professionally trained to understand all of the unique factors that can influence a person’s ability to improve their health, things like genetics, personality, social determinants, and support networks. They take a whole-person approach that addresses all aspects of a person’s health, creating a customized program that encompasses all of these factors. Habit change experts also help individuals navigate the healthcare system by ensuring they understand all the resources available to them and consistently follow a treatment plan.

Genetics can influence an individual’s predisposition for being overweight by as much as 80%, causing significant challenges to their health improvement efforts.

The most effective solutions are those that include habit change experts to work alongside case managers to support the individual along their health journey. To continue with the previous example, the diabetic who was assigned a case manager after being hospitalized may be instructed on how to eat healthier. However, the individual may live in a food desert with limited access to healthy food, or they may have access but cannot afford healthier food choices. A habit change expert can work with the individual to teach them how to make healthier meals with the food they do have access to. They also can help the individual find programs available through their benefits program for things like food vouchers, meal delivery, and other options. According to the CDC, the majority of chronic diseases can be prevented or reversed through changes in lifestyle. Without the ability to find, afford, and prepare healthy food, it’s unlikely the individual will be able to make those lifestyle changes that result in sustainable health improvements.

Success in action

At Newtopia, we’ve helped thousands of individuals live healthier lives, and hundreds of Fortune 500 companies significantly reduce costs. A partnership with Newtopia begins by measuring the client’s employee population risk through existing biometric screening data, claims data, or an online risk screener. Newtopia then stratifies that population to identify how best to intervene. Based on their identified risk factors, employees are assigned to either a broad-based disease prevention program or an individualized program focused on diabetes prevention, weight management, hypertension and heart health, or healthy living with diabetes.

Newtopia tailors each individual’s intervention based on their goals, medical history, motivation, social determinants of health, genetics, and personality. Participants are also assigned a virtual habit change expert—Newtopia calls them “Inspirators.” Inspirators are matched to the individual based on personality and preferences. While Inspirators provide accountability, long-term engagement is supported with digital tools such as connected devices and interactive apps.

In December 2019, Newtopia conducted a medical pilot program with a global Fortune 500 financial institution. Participation, even during the pandemic, was high; 71% of eligible employees signed on, nearly double the company’s original goal. At the end of the 12-month program, 84% of participants were still engaged, with 94% continuing monthly sessions with their Inspirator.

  • Total weight lost exceeded 35,800 pounds
  • 77% of participants had a positive weight reduction.
  • 44% of participants had a minimum weight loss of 4.3%.
  • Average weight loss was 4.2% (p<.0001).
  • 22% of obese participants dropped a BMI category.

The path forward

While education is a key component of an effective health and wellness program, true health improvements can only be accomplished by addressing all the unique factors that influence a person’s health. Habit change experts like the Inspirators at Newtopia combine all of these factors along with clinical education to help each person achieve real, sustainable healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Learn more about Newtopia’s solutions here.

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