Preventive health programs should address 3 key elements
The combination of genetic testing, personalized nutrition/exercise/mental wellness planning and personal coaching thwarts chronic metabolic diseases through habit change.
The most effective approach to treating chronic disease today focuses on behavior change and prevention. Condition management is yesterday’s innovation; the real key is to keep healthy people healthy in the first place. Smart preventative treatment involves highly personalized experiences informed by behavioral genetic testing to design the right nutrition + exercise + mental wellness recommendations provided by a personal health coach. This combination has achieved remarkable success both in warding off chronic disease before it occurs and in slowing and reversing disease where it appears.
Here is a brief overview of the staggering impact that chronic diseases are currently having on today’s population. Next, we’ll take a closer look at how and why the three-pronged approach to behavior change and health improvement is so effective.
Chronic disease epidemic
The United States and its workforce are increasingly aging, obese, and chronically ill. According to the CDC, 24% of the workforce is 55 or older, and hypertension affects nearly half of that population. Today, the leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease and diabetes. All appear far more prevalent among today’s workforce than in past generations due to both age and a more sedentary lifestyle.
Covid has vigorously exacerbated our already poor state of national health. Millions of us have gained weight. NPR reports that we have almost universally fallen into bad habits, becoming more sedentary, drinking more and neglecting our care in everything from cholesterol checks to cancer screenings. The psychological stress has increased. Various studies have reported an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive disorder, delirium, somatic symptoms, panic disorder, psychosis, substance abuse, hopelessness, self-harm, and even suicide. About 40% of Americans – 400,000 people! – who tragically perished from Covid had type 2 diabetes. Today, six in 10 American adults have a chronic condition according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and nearly 30% have multiple chronic conditions.
Creation of effective habits
Preventative health programs offered by employers and health plans help at-risk individuals who voluntarily choose to participate achieve impressive results by effectively warding off the most disastrous effects of our current chronic disease epidemic. Here’s how they work.
To participate in such programs, individuals determine their “at risk” status through biometric measurements (if they have already been screened) or by completing a simple online assessment. Once qualified, individuals begin a highly personalized journey to improve many physical and mental aspects – everything from waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol to behavioral measures related to anxiety, depression , resilience, sleep and mood. Each participant receives a personalized plan and ongoing support to help them move forward and achieve their goals.
To be effective, preventive health programs must three necessary and complementary componentsincluding genetic analysis, personalized nutrition, exercise and mental wellness planning, and coach-assisted habit change.
– Behavioral genetic testing. Robust preventive health programs offer information based on the presence or absence of a compilation of widely studied behavioral genetic variants – for example, gene alleles related to weight loss, stress and lifestyle. The genes involved can include those like FTO (aka “The Body Fat Gene”), DRD2 (“The Cravings Gene”), MC4R (“The Appetite Gene”) and BDNF (“The Resilience to Stress Gene”). People with the “fat gene,” for example, have a harder time breaking down and using carbohydrates. People with the “craving gene” are likely to eat food to stimulate pleasure centers in their brains that may not be getting enough dopamine. When you have the ‘appetite gene’ it can mean that your brain is a bit slower than your stomach to figure out when you’re full, which means you might be exceptionally likely to overeat. Finally, low levels of the “stress resistance” gene in the brain tend to increase appetite and decrease energy expenditure, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. Each of these circumstances can be effectively addressed and mitigated with personalized nutrition, exercise, and mental wellness recommendations.
– Personalized planning for nutrition, exercise and mental well-being. Lifestyle programs are custom built for plan participants and designed based on what their genetic testing reveals as well as any conditions they might currently have (or most fear preventing) and their lifestyle. Participants learn how different types of food affect their bodies, what is involved in metabolism and digestion, and how different times of day or stress levels can affect their eating habits. They get tips and tricks for eating well and developing healthy, lasting habits for lasting weight control. Individualized exercise plans are provided to help participants achieve their fitness goals. Participants also receive counseling and instruction regarding resilience and mindfulness, as well as training in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and coping strategies.
– Health coaching. Each individual engaged in a three-pronged prevention plan receives guidance, motivation and support from a dedicated health coach. Unlike the coaches you find in gyms or teachers of a pre-set program, effective health coaches provide more than just instruction. These coaches have training in nutrition, exercise, and cognitive behavioral therapy and focus on the full spectrum of wellness. They are part habit change designers, part behavior change experts, and serve as confidants, accountability partners, and resources with no other goal than to help you become your best self. Over time, they monitor progress and help individuals refine their approach.
These preventative health programs often measure success largely by tracking levels of engagement and improvement in overall health outcomes – improvements in physical and mental health factors. How often do employees and members meet their health goals? How well do employees and members stay engaged and stick to their habits over time? How likely are employees and engaged members to recommend others? Look for responses of 80% or more in each case.
The smart way forward
Employers and health plans that assess the future health care expenditures of their populations today realize that they face significant cost pressures and that the incidence of chronic disease in today’s populations hui is increasing and life threatening.
A platform that generates personalized health programs and creates lifelong healthy habits promises a relief revolution by preventing, reversing and slowing chronic disease. Such a platform not only saves costs, but can also be profitable and self-funding in just one year, as demonstrated by peer-reviewed evidence. Such a platform can also organize and optimize existing benefits or value-added services for employers and health plans.
Employees and members who develop new, sustainable healthy habits become happier, more focused and more productive. This helps reduce the costs associated with the chronic disease epidemic and encourages individuals to live their best lives. It certainly sounds like the health care we all crave.
About Jeff Ruby
Jeff Ruby is Founder and CEO of Newtopia, a technology-based habit change provider focused on preventing disease and reducing the cost of care for at-risk entities like large self-insured employers. A health innovator with extensive entrepreneurial experience in preventative health, Ruby was co-founder and COO of Cleveland Clinic Canada, a collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Canyon Ranch. Previously, he was co-founder and chief operating officer of Life Screening Centers, a cancer screening and prevention company. He holds a Juris Doctorate and a Master of Business Administration (JD/MBA) from Osgoode Hall and the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, as well as a Bachelor of Arts from Western University. . Ruby is a global thought leader and expert in scalable and sustainable behavior change.