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Our 'overly rosy' perception of wellness

Most workers know what it takes to get and stay healthy, but they do not have accurate perceptions of their health and their health care programs, according to a new survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company.

However, some employer strategies – such as the use of account-based plans and specific health and wellness programs – appear to be effective in motivating employees to take action to better understand and improve their health.

Aon Hewitt, the National Business Groupon Health and The Futures Company surveyed more than 2,800 employees and their dependents covered by employer health plans to determine their perspectives, behaviors and attitudes towards health and wellness. According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey, an overwhelming majority of consumers (87 percent) say their health is good, and less than one quarter (23 percent) say they are overweight or obese.

Yet, more than half (53 percent) of those consumers who report being in good health actually report height and weight that categorize them in the body mass index overweight or obese categories.

"Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action," said Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. "For others, the activities and stresses of daily life take priority over good health, and many consumers are unwilling to make sacrifices to improve their health. Employers can help workers and their families by first arming them with the necessary tools and resources that give them a realistic picture of their health, and then making it easy and convenient for them to make better decisions and participate in the right wellness programs."

When asked if they would participate in a wellness program, the survey found that up to half of consumers said they would participate with no financial incentive as long as it is easy and convenient to participate. Sixty-three percent of consumers say they would complete a health risk questionnaire for a monetary reward, and 62 percent would participate in a healthy eating or weight management programs. Almost half (48 percent) would participate in a medically-sponsored program to help them manage a health condition.

To help consumers achieve their health-related goals, employers are willing to offer incentives for actions that take more work. Over one-half (58 percent) of employers surveyed offer some form of incentive for completing a lifestyle modification program (for example, to quit smoking or lose weight). Additionally, about one-quarter of organizations report offering incentives (monetary or nonmonetary) for making progress toward meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey findings, health risk questionnaires are also a valuable way to help consumers get an accurate picture of their overall health and receive targeted feedback to help them improve their well being. Of the workers who were offered a health risk questionnaire and received suggested action steps based on their results, four out of five (86 percent) took some action. Further, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) reported that they made at least one lifestyle improvement as a result.

"Consumers are looking for solutions that address their specific health needs and concerns," said Christine Baskin, senior vice president at The Futures Company. "Tailored, targeted feedback such as that given in the (health risk questionnaire) process, along with understanding individual consumer's attitudes towards health, are essential ingredients to having employees take actions to improve their health and their lifestyle."

Aon Hewitt is a human resources consulting and outsourcing company based in Lincolnshire.

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