Wellness is broken, but we can fix it

The vast majority of Canadians believe that they are in very good or excellent health, according to a study comparing Canada to other OECD countries. In reality, however, rising incidence of chronic diseases, high levels of non-adherence to treatments and a health illiteracy rate of 60% paint a discouraging picture of the state of wellness in this country.

Despite the doom and gloom, speakers at this year’s Benefits & Pension Summit held in Vancouver suggested that a new approach to wellness could yield more positive results.

“It is time to talk about wellness in a different way,” said David Willows, vice-president, strategic market solutions, at Green Shield Canada. “There is a lot of research with numbers that suggest that, despite self-belief about their health, it is clear that Canadians are not great decision-makers about their health. We need to try to impact those with chronic diseases, but we also need to keep younger people from having the same levels.”

Willows cited data showing why it is important to target chronic diseases. The annual drug claims for people in four major disease states (depression, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes) are three to four times higher than drug claims made by people without these disease states. Also disturbing is lack of compliance with prescribed treatments: adherence levels are only 45.8% for depression, 64% for hypertension, 58.2% for cholesterol and 54.6% for diabetes.

As Susanne Cookson, president of Cookson James Loyalty, pointed out, chronic diseases will become an even bigger issue for employers as the aging population stays in the workforce. She stressed the need to encourage younger employees to make changes now that will improve their health 30 years on. “For every 100 employees, 90 have at least one risk factor such as being overweight or obese, not physically active, feeling stressed, smoking or having a mood disorder,” she said. “Getting people to take one step forward can have a powerful impact.”

She acknowledged that while it isn’t simple to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables, become more physically active or quit smoking, gentle nudges and incentives can help. “A cookie cutter approach won’t work—wellness initiatives must be personalized.”

All the articles from both the Vancouver and Toronto events can be found on our special section: 2014 Benefits & Pension Summit Coverage.