The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity

Are you looking for wellness tips and information on staying active? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the official voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. Continue reading this blog post for guidelines and recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.


You can read fitness magazines or online blogs, get tips from friends and neighbors, or make up your own rules and regimens for staying active. But when the federal government speaks, you should probably listen.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. The guidelines are based on scientific evidence and provide recommendations for Americans of all ages. The second edition of these guidelines came out in 2018 and includes some intriguing facts:

  • About half of all American adults have at least one chronic disease.
  • Seventy percent of the most common of these diseases can be improved by physical activity.
  • A full 80 percent of adults aren’t getting the aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity recommended.
  • This lack of activity has been linked to 10 percent of premature deaths.

Yikes! Not good, right? If this gets your attention and you’d like to up your activity level, here are the top recommendations from the guide:

  • Kids ages 3 - 5 should be active at least 3 hours a day.
  • Kids 6 - 17 should strive for at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity per day. This should include aerobic activity (anything that speeds up heart rate) and muscle-strengthening activities. This activity has been shown to help with things like bone health, heart health and even learning.
  • Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity (lifting weights, push-ups). Physical activity brings immediate health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. Over time, physical activity can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, weight gain, and eight different cancers, among other health risks. It also helps improve overall quality of life.
  • For people who already have a health condition, physical activity can help with pain, slow the disease’s progress, keep depression and anxiety at bay, and improve brain function for people with Alzheimer’s disease, MS, Parkinson’s, and other conditions.

When it comes to government, you might not like everything you hear and read. But for the real scoop on activity levels and health, our friends in Washington seem to know what’s best. Remember, any activity is better than none, so get out of your chair, step away from your desk, or otherwise get moving!

Source: Health.gov. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things (Accessed 6/20/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (14th August, 2019). "The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: http://blog.ubabenefits.com/lowdown-on-physical-activity


Protect your pet, protect yourself

While pets can give us joy and unconditional love, they can also sometimes give us illness. Zoonoses, infectious diseases that can be passed between animals and humans, can spread through direct contact, insects and sometimes via the animal's environment. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Pets bring us joy and unconditional love. But sometimes they can bring us illness. Infectious diseases can be passed between animals and humans. These diseases are known as zoonoses. Zoonoses can be spread through direct contact, sometimes through insects, and sometimes via the animal's environment.

Let's face it. Animals do some gross things. Dogs drink from filthy puddles. Cats kill birds and chipmunks. And sometimes, our pets even—gasp!—bite and scratch. All of these things and more can cause the spread of infections and diseases between animals and humans.

Luckily, there are steps pet owners can take to help keep both their animals and their families safe from these risks. The first line of defense for dogs and cats is vaccination. Over the last century, say experts, vaccines have saved the lives of millions of pets. Talk to your veterinarian about what vaccinations your pet should have. The most common for dogs include rabies, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection and canine hepatitis. Cats normally receive shots for rabies, feline distemper, feline rhinotracheitis (feline influenza) and calicivirus (FVC). Your vet may recommend other vaccines based on your pet's needs.

Try to keep your pet away from wildlife whenever possible. Animals like skunks and raccoons can carry the rabies virus. After spending time outdoors or around other animals, check for ticks. Contact with contaminated water or soil can cause a host of diseases such as cryptosporidiosis and leptospirosis. These and other illnesses, caused by parasites, can be spread to humans. Humans can also contract fleas, mites, and ticks, hookworms and roundworms, and fungal infections. Cats pose a few unique threats. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that lives in the intestines of cats. If toxoplasmosis spreads to a pregnant woman and then to her baby, birth defects can occur. So pregnant women should wear gloves when cleaning the litter box or, even better, leave the chore to someone else. And a scratch or a bite from a kitty can cause serious infection to any unlucky victim.

It's not just cats and dogs that can spread illness. Amphibians, like frogs and salamanders, and reptiles, like turtles, lizards, and snakes, often carry salmonella. These pets aren't recommended in homes with children under five years old. Backyard chickens and ducks also often carry the salmonella bacteria.

Don't let these facts scare you—but do make sure you use good sense around animals. Always wash your hands after petting or holding animals. Train dogs to follow your commands, and keep them leashed. Don't let your pets drink dirty water or eat something they shouldn't eat, and keep them away from wild animals. Check your pet for ticks after they've been outside. Keep shots up to date, and see the vet for regular pet checkups. A healthy pet is a happy pet—and that makes pet owners happy, too.

Sources:

American Veterinary Medical Association. Common-sense measures to protect your dog, yourself and others in canine settings. 2018.
https://avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Protect-Your-Dogs-Yourself-and-Others.aspx (Accessed 5/3/18)

American Veterinary Medical Association. Vaccination FAQ. 2018.
https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Vaccination-FAQs.aspx
(Accessed 5/4/18)

American Family Physician. Pet-related infections. 11/15/2016. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/1115/p794.html (Accessed 5/3/18)

Healthline. Animal bite infections. 11/15/2016. https://www.healthline.com/health/animal-bite-infections (Accessed 5/4/18)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (30 May 2019) "Protect your pet, protect yourself" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/protect-your-pet-protect-yourself


Outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors

How are you spending your time outdoors? Fresh air, sunshine and being active outdoors is good for your health. Read this blog post from UBA for creative, outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors this summer.


Fresh air and sunshine are good for our health, and being active in the outdoors is better yet. Even if you're not an avid runner or cyclist, there are so many other wonderful ways to get the exercise you need while taking in the joys of nature, family, and friends. Here are a few ideas that might inspire you to grab your sneakers and head out the door for an activity that may be new to you.

Go birding. Take a walk, observe and listen. You'll find song and color all around you. Try different habitats for different species. Join an organized birding hike in your community. Use binoculars if you have them.

Try outdoor yoga. If you like yoga, you'll love outdoor yoga. Many communities hold outdoor yoga classes in parks or on beaches. Let the breezes and sounds of nature add to the enjoyment of your practice.

Go canoeing, kayaking, or paddle boarding. Paddling a canoe, kayak or paddle board is a good workout. Many parks and outdoor equipment stores rent the equipment. (Don't forget the flotation devices.)

Work in a community garden. Volunteer to help plant or care for a community garden to get some beneficial time working outdoors while making the world more beautiful.

Bike to the store. Use a back pack or bike basket to carry your purchases home. Get your exercise and run your errands in one fell swoop.

Walk the beach.If you're lucky enough to live on the shores of the ocean or a large body of water, turn your stroll into a treasure hunt. Search for the prettiest and most unusual seashells or colorful rocks. If you start a collection, you'll be more motivated to get out there again and again.

Stroll the farmers market. You'll be outdoors, you'll be walking, you'll carry your purchases (weight training!) and you'll have fresh, seasonal, local foods for healthful eating. Take in the colors and textures, the aromas, and the great people-watching.

Play like a kid. Organize some old-fashioned backyard games like badminton, croquet, or whiffle ball. Invite the neighbors. Have a tournament with fun prizes. Cool off with the hose or run through the sprinkler.

Dance at an outdoor concert. Whether you're enjoying a community band in the local park or a world-class act at a festival, move while you groove. Dance your heart out. Nobody's watching (except maybe your kids).

Source:

Get Out! 5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise, 3/27/2018

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6360/get-out-5-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise(Accessed 2/21/2018)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (28 May 2019) "Outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/outside-the-box-ways-to-spend-time-outdoors


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

Exercise and Health: The Mind-Body Connection

Did you know: There are physiological reasons why you get an overall feeling of well-being after taking a long walk, shoveling snow, dancing, etc. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Ever notice how you can get an overall feeling of well-being after taking a long walk, shoveling snow, dancing, or playing Frisbee with the kids? It’s not just because you can check “get some physical activity” off your to-do list. Turns out, there are physiological reasons why you get that feeling. And for people who suffer from a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or ADHD, exercise can relieve symptoms almost as well as medications, and can sometimes help certain symptoms from coming back.

How does it work? Researchers aren’t completely sure. But we do know that physical activity causes certain substances that affect brain function to kick in. These include:

  • Endorphins– brain chemicals that reduce stress or pain and increase feelings of well-being
  • Serotonin– a brain chemical that affects mood
  • Glutamate and GABA– chemicals that influence parts of the brain that affect emotions and mental clarity
  • BDNF(brain-derived neurotropic factor) – a protein that protects nerve cells in the brain that help control depression-like symptoms

Many people have found that exercise helps keep anger, stress, and muscle tension at bay and can help you sleep, which helps lessen stress, boost concentration, and improve self-esteem. In addition, it can help you cope with challenges in a healthier way, instead of turning to behaviors like drinking alcohol, which can actually make symptoms worse.

Recommendations for physical activity are the same for mental health benefits as they are for physical benefits: try for at least 150 minutes per week. But even one hour a week has been shown to help with mood disorders like depression and anxiety and even substance use disorder. But people suffering from mental health conditions may find it hard to do even that small amount. No matter how much you try to convince yourself to get up and move, you just can’t get motivated.

If this happens, remind yourself that just a walk around the block is a great start. Don’t set yourself up for failure by telling yourself you “should” be doing more. Just start somewhere, and hopefully the benefits you start to notice will keep you motivated to build up from there. Finding an activity you actually enjoy can really help you stay motivated.

There’s no doubt that physical activity is beneficial for mind and body. And even just short spurts are helpful. But if you are having symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, physical activity may not be enough. Always talk to your doctor or a therapist if your symptoms are troublesome — you may benefit from medication and/or talk therapy.

Whatever you do to boost your activity level – even taking the smallest of steps – give yourself lots of props. Getting started isn’t easy and staying motivated can be challenging. But try. It just might leave you feeling great.

Sources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Exercise for stress and anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercisestress-and-anxiety (Accessed 3/1/19)

Helpguide.org. The mental health benefits of exercise. November 2018. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-healthbenefits-of-exercise.htm (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mental Health America. Exercise. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/fitness-4mind4body-exercise  (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mental Health America. Get physically active. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/get-physically-active (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mayo Clinic. Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. September 27, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/

depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495 (Accessed 3/1/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (23 May 2019) "Exercise and Health: The Mind-Body Connection" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/exercise-and-health-the-mind-body-connection


To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees

Over the last 20 years, there has been a growing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the United States. An estimated that 75% of patients with Type 2 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar. Read on to learn more.


Over the last 20 years, there’s been a growing prevalence in the U.S. of Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that significantly impacts employers, their employees and family members clinically, financially and through quality of life. With that comes an increase in the use of insulin for people with Type 2 diabetes to better control blood sugar to reduce long-term complications, which includes eye, kidney and cardiac disease, as well as neuropathic complications.

Most of these patients manage their condition with oral medicines versus insulin, and it’s estimated that 75% of patients with Type 2 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar, even though doing so may not be needed. Blood sugar testing is an important tool in managing diabetes as it can help a patient be more aware of their disease and potentially control it better. But it also can be painful, inconvenient and costly.

Blood sugar testing can be an important tool in managing diabetes, and there are two types of tests. The first is a test conducted at home by the patient that shows the blood sugar at a specific point in time. The second type is called HA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control) that shows the average blood sugar over the last two to three months. The value of at-home testing is now thought to be questionable.

In 2012, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute began a study to evaluate the value of daily blood sugar testing for people with Type 2 diabetes not taking insulin. The endpoint for the study was whether there was a difference in HA1c levels for those who did daily testing and those that did not. The conclusion of the study found that there were no significant differences between those two populations.

In response to these findings, the institute developed an initiative called Rethink the Strip that involves stakeholders including primary care practices, healthcare providers, patients, health plans, coalitions and employers. Given the cost for test strips and monitors for patients with Type 2 diabetes who test their blood sugar daily, it’s important to adopt an evidence-based patient-centered approach around the need for and frequency of self-monitoring of blood glucose.

As employees and employers cope with the costs associated with blood sugar testing, there are several strategies that should be considered to better manage this issue. They include:

1. Support shared decision-making. Like all interventions within healthcare, it’s important to weigh both the benefits and the risks of daily blood sugar testing in a thoughtful manner between the patient and their provider.

2. Managed benefit design. Employers should pay for daily blood sugar test strips in cases where it brings value (e.g., Type 1 and Type 2 patients who are taking insulin as well as patients that are either newly diagnosed or are going through a transition period, for example, post hospitalization or beginning a new medication regimen).

3. Involve vendors. To ensure alignment in all messaging to plan members, ask health systems and/or health plans and third-party vendors to align their communication, measurement and provider feedback strategies on when it’s appropriate for daily blood sugar testing.

These strategies can help employees with diabetes understand how their daily activities (nutrition, exercise and stress) and medications impact their condition. This benefits the employee in reaching treatment goals and feeling their best, while also helping employers and employees reduce the need for unnecessary and costly test strips.

SOURCE: Berger, J. (14 March 2019) "To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/managing-blood-sugar-in-diabetic-employees?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Seeds of Change

Fruits and vegetables fill a variety of essential nutritional needs and help protect us against certain diseases. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more about how adding more fruits and veggies to your diet can positively impact your health.


Has anyone ever said to you, “Eat your vegetables!”? Have you ever admonished your own kids to do the same? Are you guilty of throwing away the banana your mom packed in your lunch bag, or ignoring that apple you brought to the office — the one that’s now shriveled up and inedible?

Chances are you can answer “yes” to at least one of the above. While many people are trying to include more fruits and veggies in their diets, most of us could probably do better — in fact, most of us should probably eat twice what we’re currently eating. That’s because fruits and vegetables fill an incredible variety of essential nutritional needs and can help protect against certain diseases. These may include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers. They can also help reduce the risk of digestive and eye problems.

Veg out

Let’s hear it for vegetables. These colorful foods are cholesterol free and low in fat and calories. Depending on the variety, they offer vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium, along with fiber to aid digestion. The fiber also helps you feel fuller faster, which may help you stay away from less-nutritious, higher-calorie foods. They’re just as good for you whether cooked or raw, fresh, frozen, or canned, whole or chopped. Even 100% vegetable juice counts. Try to eat a wide variety, including red and orange (such as peppers and carrots), dark green leafy (such as spinach), peas and beans (such as lentils), and starchy (sweet potatoes).

More fruit? Sweet!

As with vegetables, fruits provide a host of nutrients. Potassium, vitamin C, folate, and fiber are just a few. In addition, fruits are low in sodium, calories and fat and have zero cholesterol. Some fruits contain plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that may play a part in keeping you healthy — but this is being looked into further by scientists. In general, though, a diet that includes plenty of fruit may help reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, birth defects, and heart disease. The potassium in fruit may help with bone strength. And fruit may also protect against certain kinds of cancer. Like veggies, you can enjoy fruit fresh, frozen, whole, chopped or sliced, or as 100% juice.

How much?

So just how much do you need to consume to get “enough” fruits and veggies? It depends on your age, your activity level and whether you’re male or female. For adult women, 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day is recommended. Men should strive for 2 to 2½ cups of fruit and 3 to 4½ cups of veggies. Try to eat a variety of each, as no one fruit or veggie will give you all the nutrients you need. If you try to make half the food on your plate fruit and vegetables, you’ll be well on your way to getting the earthborn nutrients they offer.

So think green. And red, yellow, orange, blue and purple. Experiment with different varieties and recipes. Sneak spinach into sauces and omelets. Make frozen treats from fresh fruit. There are so many ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables — and you’re sure to enjoy their health benefits, too.

Sources:

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat vegetables? June 2015 https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat fruit? June 2015     https://www.choosemyplate.gov/fruits-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of vegetables. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Vegetables (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of fruits. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Fruits (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Produce for the Better Health Foundation & the Centers for Disease Control. Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. Top 10 reasons to eat more fruits & vegetables. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Harvard School of Public Health. The nutrition source. Vegetables and fruits.
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-youeat/vegetables-and-fruits/ (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Helpguide.org. Healthy eating. https://www.helpguide.org/articles-healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm (Accessed 1/3/2019)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (12 February 2019) "Seeds of Change" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/seeds-of-change


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

Do you know whether your wellness plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent?” Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read on for more.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat

How often are there doughnuts, chips, soda, etc. in the break room? According to the RAND Corporation, 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition. Continue reading to learn more.


Doughnuts in the conference room. Soda and chips from the vending machine. Cookies in the office kitchen. A recent CDC study of employees across the U.S. found that the foods people get at work tend to contain high amounts of salt, sugar and empty calories.

When people are busy and on-the-go — a common reality for full-time employees who spend more than a third of their day at work — it’s all too easy to fall into poor eating habits. And poor eating habits contribute to poor health. According to a RAND Corporation Study, 60% of American adults suffer from at least one chronic condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure) and 42% have more than one. These conditions are costly, and not just for individuals themselves. The CDC estimates that productivity losses related to health issues cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

For employers that care about wellness, improving food and beverage offerings represents an untapped opportunity: Better nutrition at work can not only have a powerful impact on employee health but also contribute to a happier, more focused and productive workforce. Making large-scale changes across an organization is not always easy, however, especially when it comes to ingrained habits and preferences. What can today’s employers do to incentivize their employees to make healthier choices?

1. Make healthy food and beverages a benefit.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 survey on Global Human Capital Trends, 63% of employees surveyed cited healthy snacks as something they value highly when it comes to wellness. People want to eat healthier, which is great, but when they are busy, they’ll pick up what’s easy and available. And in too many of today’s offices, that means vending machines and office kitchens stocked with ultra-processed foods high in sugar and salt. Not only are these items unhealthy, they can also lead to sluggishness and lethargy as blood sugar levels spike and then crash.

It’s pretty simple: When more nutritious offerings are readily available — and especially if they are free or subsidized — people are more likely to try them. Companies that offer high-quality food and beverages as a benefit will reap rewards not just in terms of a healthier and more productive workforce, but also in attracting and retaining people, like millennials, who value wellness and appreciate the fact that their employer is investing in their health and happiness.

2. Get personal.

Different people have different drivers and different needs. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to changing habits rarely works. Before making big decisions about your company’s food and beverage services, ask questions: Are some people on special diets or do they keep unusual schedules? What do people like and dislike about current available options? What kinds of foods and drinks do they wish were offered, but aren’t?

With a better understanding of habits, preferences and what drives people to the kitchen or break room in the first place (boredom? low energy? social time?), employers can begin to build a food and beverage profile that’s tailored to their workforce’s individual needs and thus more likely to be embraced.

3. Consider the “psychology” of snacking.

People don’t always make rational decisions — even more so when they are tired, stressed or “hangry.” But when corporations make the healthy choice the easy (and delicious!) choice, it helps. Everything from where snacks and drinks are positioned — are the more nutritious options at eye level? — to the design of kitchen and break room spaces can make a difference in promoting better eating habits.

For example, kitchen spaces that are attractive, comfortable and inviting encourage people to take a little more time and put more thought into selecting their snacks, and can also serve as a welcome place for people to connect with each other and de-stress. Taste is another important consideration. People sometimes assume that healthy food won’t taste as good as the bad stuff, but this is often just a misconception. Special tastings or fun office activities like offering a “snack of the week” can get people to try more nutritious options and see for themselves that they can be just as — if not more — delicious than what they were eating before.

4. Nudge, don’t push.

Don’t expect people to move from potato chips to veggie and quinoa salad overnight. Organizations that start with a few key changes — replacing sugary sodas with flavored water, for example, or swapping out highly-processed snacks and foods with similar, but more nutritious options — will face less initial resistance, and can then build up their healthy offerings over time. Every workplace has their guilty pleasures, whether it’s a specific brand of soda or a favorite candy. Rather than turning people off by taking their “comfort snacks” away, sometimes the best approach is to simply add healthier alternatives and then wait for people discover on their own that these can be equally fulfilling and delicious, and most importantly, make them feel better too.

Workplace wellness initiatives continue to grow in popularity, but there are still questions about whether these programs are as effective as they could be. While health screenings, smoking cessation programs and gym memberships are a good start, corporations shouldn’t overlook a key driver of good health — what their people eat and drink. Providing easy access to a great diet at work is a smart strategy for improving wellness, and one that employees will come to appreciate as a valuable benefit. Plus, healthy, enthusiastic and energized people makes for a much happier and more productive workplace — a win-win for employees and employers alike.

SOURCE: Heinrich, M. (3 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-ways-to-help-employees-make-better-choices-about-what-they-eat?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000