Employers are under increasing pressure to keep their employees healthier–to preserve productivity and keep medical costs down. While there are a bewildering number of employee wellness programs and tools out there, we think the most effective place to start is to focus on the ‘chronics’ before they become chronic, by paying particular attention to employees with the following risk factors: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. As more of these risk factors go out of range, employees develop a risk state called metabolic syndrome (MetS). MetS is an alarm bell signaling that an individual is heading toward a chronic disease cliff.
Today, MetS affects 1 in 3 people—making it as common as the common cold. More important, it is the precursor to major health problems that all employers know too much about, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH). Diseases associated with MetS account for 20 percent of healthcare spending nationwide, and probably several of the top five make up a large proportion of your organization’s healthcare costs as well. Even employees who don’t have MetS yet (3+ risk factors) are at risk of developing it if they are overweight, don’t get enough exercise, or have high blood pressure. Between 40 and 60 percent of your employees either have MetS today or are at risk of developing it in the next few years.
Newtopia was founded on the principle that if we can stop chronic disease before it starts, or turn around some of the conditions that make it up, we can help employees stay healthier and reduce healthcare costs at the same time. We develop hyper-personalized experiences that go way beyond traditional one-size-fits-all employee wellness offerings or curricula, and we think our program is a model for next generation offerings that have a measurable and major impact on employee health.
The Cost of Ignoring Prevention
Why should employers make it a priority to address at-risk employees? Obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and NASH have two things in common: they are almost always preventable, and they take a high human and financial toll.
It’s been estimated that employers pay more than three times as much in healthcare bills, lost productivity and other costs for employees with modifiable lifestyle risk factors such as poor diet, inactivity, and smoking, compared with employees who have healthier lifestyles. Employees with MetS are 60 percent more expensive than healthy employees ($5,400 vs. $3,400 per year in medical costs). When MetS turns into chronic disease there is an astronomical jump in annual costs ($15,000-$20,000 per year) –a liability employers would want to mitigate.
Forbes recently reported that poor health costs the US economy more than half a trillion dollars per year primarily due to:
- lost productivity due to employee absenteeism because of illness = $227 billion
- wage replacement costs, including workers’ compensation and short and long-term disability = $117 billion
- medical treatment and drugs = $232 billion
By combining the best of high touch and smart touch technologies with data analytics, we have developed a unique personalized experience that keeps employees engaged, allowing them to live healthier every day. Participants, selected because they have two or more MetS risk factors, are provided the tools they need for success – an optional saliva-based genetic test, a cellular scale, an activity tracker, and a mobile or web app to set goals, track progress, participate in activities and socialize with a curated community.
Aetna—the leader in medical and disability insurance—sponsored a three-year randomized control trial (RCT) with Newtopia. The first-year results, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) showed that our program helped participants engage and reduce enough body weight (76 percent lost an average of 10 pounds or achieved a five percent body weight reduction) to experience meaningful clinical improvements across all five MetS risk factors. Financially, Aetna saved $1,464 per employee, about double what the company spent on the program. After 24 months we continued to see high rates of engagement and a doubling of body weight reduction (90 percent maintained or continued to reduce body weight with average body weight loss of up to 22 pounds or a 10 percent body weight reduction).
Veterans of employee wellness programs will understand how remarkable it is that ours keeps showing these results two years later. That longevity defines our key differentiation—we strive to hyper-personalize a meaningful experience to help build the confidence of each participant to adopt healthier lifestyle habits that build and snowball over time. The real key is in understanding and addressing behavior change—not simply a one-size-fits-all curriculum. By providing the best solutions for individual employees, we have the ability to empower them to make sustainable lifestyle changes, lowering their risk of developing disease, and helping them become their best selves.