America has a serious weight problem. Public Service Announcements to eat better and get active can be seen and heard on television and radio. The concern about the nation’s health has even reached the White House, with First Lady Michelle Obama launching the Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.
The Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index (WWI) recently published research indicating 6 behavioral risk factors could be linked to 14% of direct healthcare costs in the employed, privately insured workforce. The risk factor with the most impact on healthcare cost is Body Mass Index (BMI). While this study and others have demonstrated BMI’s link to an increase in health risks and costs, many have begun to question the usefulness and accuracy BMI.
BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight and is used widely by physicians, employee wellness programs, and other health professionals to estimate body fatness and screen for weight categories that may increase risk for other health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control, BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.
As with other screening tools, BMI is not perfect. The calculation often overestimates body fatness for athletes and underestimates for the severely overweight. Conventional wisdom is changing as more methods for determining health risks associated with obesity become more widely available as part of an employer health screening. Measures such as body fat, waist circumference, and waist to hip ratio used in conjunction with BMI, are more reliable in predicting risk.
In an effort to control health care costs, improve productivity, and increase the overall health of your workforce, many employers have implemented incentives for improving biometric measures. Most call this a wellness program.
While wellness initiatives can provide some motivation for employees to maintain or improve health, to truly drive outcomes employers need to take a broader approach to health and productivity by going beyond a wellness program to adopting a Health Risk Management (HRM) strategy. HRM requires a cultural shift in the workplace, where policies, procedures, and practices support health improvement and credible data is utilized to measure outcomes and efficacy. The simplest way to state this is: wellness is an outcome, not a strategy.
More information on the Workforce Wellness Index and BMI can be found here: