The promise of the 21st century technological revolution was to help make employees more productive and mobile. As a result, today’s generation of employees is the most technically sophisticated ever. Mobile email devices, high-speed broadband, laptop computers, and a host of other innovations have certainly helped make today’s technically-savvy employees more productive. But there has been an unintended consequence: these ‘always-on’ employees are becoming less active. Obesity rates in America have increased 43.8% in less than one decade and 67% (200M) of all Americans are now considered overweight or obese (CDC – Center for Disease Control – 2004). As a result, companies are continuing to combat rising health care costs for a workforce that is getting less and less healthy.
However, some companies are beginning to develop a new strategy based on the old adage of “fighting fire with fire”. These companies are now beginning to use technology to fight back against the growing physical inactivity of their employees. One such company is Kensington Electronics, a leading distributor of connector solutions for the electronics industry. While looking for ways to reduce their healthcare costs, they found a company called demandFITNESS which uses video, assessment, and tracking technology to create a ‘virtual gym’ that can deliver fitness classes directly to employees using the Internet.
“We had been looking for a way to allow our employees to attain a healthier lifestyle in order to reduce our long-term healthcare costs,” said Patrick Rabbitt, CEO Kensington Electronics. “The demandFITNESS approach of utilizing technology to get employees fit seemed like an ideal solution.”
In the demandFITNESS program, Kensington Electronics employees start by taking an online health risk assessment that is used to show them exactly what their health risks are while also suggesting behavioral changes that will improve their outlook. Employees then are able to view or download any of over 200 fitness videos ranging from traditional classes such as aerobics and Pilates to specialty classes such as heavyweight yoga or senior fitness. By making these classes available on a 7×24 basis, the typical excuse of “I don’t have time to workout” is easily avoided. Online tools such as fitness and goal trackers are then used to show the employees their progress.
In fact, there are new waves of companies who are utilizing technology to breathe new life into static corporate wellness programs. Even more established companies such as Weight Watchers are jumping into the technology game. The Weight Watchers approach now utilizes online communities, monitoring tools, and interactive nutrition advice to help augment their well-known meeting-based approach to losing weight. Health care costs have increased 87% since 2000 (source: Deloitte Consulting Health Care Surveys 1999-2006) so it’s no wonder that solution providers are striving to develop innovative solutions to address this growing problem.
The numbers are staggering. In addition to the 200 million Americans considered overweight or obese, the CDC also reports that 120 million Americans have chronic stress, 75 million have diabetes, 72 million have heart disease, and 65 million have high blood pressure.
“Problems such as diabetes, strokes, and high blood pressure due to physical inactivity are growing at an alarming rate, putting undue pressure on today’s corporate health care budgets,” said Joanne Blackerby, owner of Spirit Fitness, a company offering personal and group fitness programs. “Employers are beginning to fight back by adopting solutions that appeal to today’s iPod generation.”
By using technology, solution providers are hoping that increasing numbers of employees will find ways to get moving. If successful, these providers will not only help employers continue their battle against rising heath care costs, they may in fact redefine the definition of corporate wellness systems.