Why Employers Must Understand Chronic Condition Root Causes

Why Employers Must Understand Chronic Condition Root Causes


More organizations are being sold on traditional wellness programs as a way to keep their employees happy and healthy. While this is a step in the right direction, it is also encouraging employers to not look at the larger issue at hand: the root causes of chronic health conditions.

Zillion Coach and Member Experience Manager Heidi Zwart, along with Restore Health Coach Kristen Simon, presented “Can’t See the Forest for the Trees?—How the Root Causes of Chronic Conditions Have a Major Impact on Employers.” In this presentation, they dug into why employers should have a comprehensive understanding of chronic condition root causes. The symptoms might be most prevalent and easily seen, but targeting the symptoms alone through traditional wellness programs will not generate the desired long-lasting positive impact for both employees and the companies they work for.

The top health care cost drivers are all interconnected, said Zwart and Simon. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are costing employers the most in annual health care expenditure. Furthermore, a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and obesity are all health risk factors that lead to chronic disease.

Insulin resistance is the root cause of all of those health care cost drivers, explained Simon. While it is often believed that insulin resistance is a symptom of some of those chronic conditions, the opposite is in fact true. For example, about 80% of people diagnosed with obesity have metabolic syndrome, and close to 40% of non-obese individuals also have MetS, an outcome of insulin resistance.

As an HR benefits manager, if you’re only targeting weight, you’re missing half of the people who are unhealthy and negatively impacting health care claims. Losing weight will not make insulin resistance disappear – you’re just treating the symptom of the real problem.

To that effect, traditional corporate wellness programs often target the healthiest, most active individuals – those with the lowest average health care spend. Comparatively, condition management focuses on the individuals who sit between healthy and sick: those with Metabolic Syndrome (MetS).

MetS is a combination of risk factors (like obesity and high blood pressure) that increase the likelihood of costly chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Those chronic conditions in turn can make up 70 percent of the average organization’s annual health care spend.

Employers must understand that the root cause of most pre-chronic health conditions tie back to MetS and insulin resistance. From there, employers can ditch traditional corporate wellness programs that are generalized, oversimplified and not working and instead opt for a more targeted approach of condition management, which can reduce the onset of most chronic conditions.

This is where Zillion’s Restore program is different because it focuses on behavior change, giving employees “nudges” to make small and gradual adjustments that fit into their current lifestyles. This keeps individuals motivated and leads to larger, permanent life changes.

For example, Simon and Zwart highlighted the success of one Restore member, Lisa. A working mother of two young children, Lisa struggled with her weight and was limited in exercise options because of prior surgeries on her feet. Through Restore, she was able to make small and gradual adjustments that fit into her current lifestyle, keeping her motivated and leading to larger, permanent life changes. In four months, Lisa successfully lost 48 pounds and lowered her BMI from 45.6 to 37.6. To date, she’s lost 115 pounds.

“People are what matter: your people,” Zwart said. “And they’re people like Lisa. These kinds of results are not unusual with our members and they’re the results that give me goosebumps.”

Overall, Zwart and Simon stressed that the root cause of most chronic health conditions is behaviorally driven by unhealthy lifestyles choices, but importantly, can be corrected if intervened at an early stage. Deploying a proven condition management program utilizing behavior modification that targets individuals with insulin resistance and MetS can have positive health outcomes. This will then help employees reverse their disposition to insulin resistance and MetS in large numbers, reducing health care expenditure and bending the health care cost curve.

For more information, watch the full webinar here.

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