BestLifeRewarded Innovations Inc. has launched a research project aimed at demonstrating how small changes in behaviour could make a significant difference in both employee health and its economic burden on employers.

The project focuses on five modifiable risk factors: physical inactivity, smoking, excess weight, use of alcohol and low vegetable and fruit consumption.

A one per cent year-over-year reduction of these five factors could save the Canadian economy more than $7 billion in the next five years, says Hans Krueger, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health. Specifically, the savings would be from direct costs, like hospital care, and indirect costs, like premature death and disability, he says.

Read: Healthy Outcomes: Prediabetes among biggest concerns for employee health

Most people struggle with at least one or more of these five factors, according to Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell Ltd. “There’s a number of different risk factors that somebody has, some of them are biological, some of them have to do with environmental factors that you can’t change, but what you can influence is your behaviour,” she says.

These risk factors can also lead to lost workplace productivity, adds Allen. “You’re more likely to be tired, you’re more likely to get colds and other things that take you out of the workforce, so there’s some productivity impact potentially.”

Several federal government departments and agencies, including the Canadian Forces Housing Agency and Correctional Services Canada, are taking part in the project. Their employees will have the opportunity to complete a health risk assessment, which will be followed by a customized action plan focused on rewarding small health changes.

“From my perspective, anything that moves the needle in this direction is a good thing, as long as it actually moves it in the direction of a healthier lifestyle,” says Krueger.

Another benefit, according to Krueger, is the potential “de-normalization” of unhealthy activities. To illustrate this, Krueger draws parallels to smoking and how its gradual banning led to less acceptance overall.

Read: How IWK encourages healthier habits among staff

Allen agrees with this idea. “If people around you are behaving in a particular way, you’re more likely to behave in the same way,” she says. “If you go out to dinner and most people are ordering fries and wings, you’re more likely to eat fries and wings than a salad, and the opposite is true.”

But Allen is surprised stress management isn’t covered as a risk factor in the project.

“When you think about it, how you manage stress is a risk factor for mental health. Also, how you manage stress is a risk factor for some of these behaviours, whether you smoke, whether you eat, whether you drink, your weight, it’s one of those things that kind of underlies these other factors.”

When it comes to changing these behaviours, Krueger acknowledges there’s no “magic bullet” but there’s a need for a comprehensive effort from employees and employers. “Changing behaviour is not simple, it’s going to take an awfully long time, it’s going to take a comprehensive approach,” he says. “Anything that we can do in this direction is a good and healthy thing.”

The first phase of BestLifeRewarded Innovations’ project will be conducted over the next two years. Its platform will measure the impact on the health of employee participants, while Krueger’s team will use an economic model to estimate how much money could be saved by the Canadian economy as a result.

“We’ve launched this employee health study in an effort to demonstrate that a tangible impact can be achieved with an evidence-informed, personalized, automated, scalable program,” said Susanne Cookson, co-founder of BestLifeRewarded Innovations, in a release. “We are excited to partner with federal government departments and agencies to demonstrate that our proven solution will have a major impact on the overall health of their employees and significantly reduce the economic burden associated with key modifiable risk factors.”

Read: What resources can employers use to assess employee well-being?

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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Charles Spina:

This is good, but for the last thirty years, we’ve been brilliant at observing the obvious, which includes all of the “risk factors” noted above, plus others, and we’ve been unskilled at modifying the controllable ones.

Quizz: how many employers have lost their faith in “wellness programs.? Try >50%. Platitudes don’t cut it any more. Besides, we are far behind the U.S. in the adoption of incentive-based, measured programs.

Further, why conduct another close-to-worthless study when the data exists to build the multivariate predictive models today. If my recent visit to a local emerg. is any indication, (visit frequency being highly correlated with most of the risk factors-the nutritional one needs to be re-defined, but I digress), we have an epidemic of behaviourally-induced illness in this country. I would hazard an estimate that one out of three of the people in the waiting room shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or could have avoided being there, given their obvious, controllable physical and psychological pre-dispositions, and I’m not just talking about weight.

Hospitals are much better at scaling their emerg. department capacities for expected demand and fluctuations in it, but they have their limits. Unless you triage at a CTAS 1, 2 or 3, be prepared to wait a very long time to be seen.

Just perhaps, would a $10 user fee cut down on emerg. LOS (Length of Stay)? Perish the thought. This is Canada after all.

Monday, September 25 at 1:19 pm | Reply

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