With a story on corporate fitness on tap for our November issue, I zeroed in on as many seminars as I could attend in connection with The Corporate Fitness Show track.
The first seminar I sat in on dealt with how clubs fit in with employer wellness programs. Thomas Blackadar of FitLinxx exercise solutions moderated the seminar.
Blackadar had several statistics to show how health insurance costs can be reduced if employees of companies simply participated in wellness programs. He said that $5 billion could be saved by improving the employee participation in wellness programs by just 10 percent. Blackadar and FitLinxx's research shows that 20 percent of the employees in a given company represent 80 percent of the health care budget for that company. More corporations are putting incentives in place and are targeting that 20 percent to get them into wellness programs.
Blackadar suggests that health clubs have the people and the instruction necessary to gain leverage into the employee workplace. Clubs need to help track an employee's workout data to improve their health. Insurance companies need to be targeted, too, so that they can see verifiable data of these employees. Electronic medical records are coming of age, Blackadar says, and the cost to collect and move data is being reduced drastically. Wearable electronics and activity monitors are more commonplace in the consumer market.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) comes into play when discussing how medical information can be moved around, especially when HIPAA protects the privacy of an employee's medical information. That was one of the topics discussed by Marc Onigman, who started Club Industry magazine in 1983 and organized The Corporate Fitness Show.
The tricky part for corporations, Onigman says, is helping an employee get fit without violating HIPAA privacy laws. A few questions were raised: Can corporations single out employees who are “high risk” before providing them with a wellness program? Are unfit people willing to go through a medical exam to see if they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure so that they can qualify for a company's wellness program? Also, how tough is it to sell self-reported data though the use of exercise-tracking devices to insurance companies, especially since most of that tracking takes place outside the office? The answers have yet to be determined.
A “data monster” is coming soon, Onigman says. All our information could one day be stored on a space as small as a credit card. With this data force, there will be a need for a HIPAA-compliant server, he says. Recently, Microsoft launched HealthVault for people to track their personal health online.
Trying to offer employees incentives for getting fit through wellness programs and other company-sponsored programs goes against societal norm, Onigman says. Nothing is offered to the person who turns in a book on time or drives the speed limit. We penalize bad behavior, but we don't normally offer incentives for good behavior, he says.
In a separate seminar on nutrition, Onigman says there are not as many diets geared specifically for men as there are for women. Most men eat without caring a lot about what and how much they are putting in their bodies, he says.
Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has almost become a health food, even though it is a delivery mechanism for sugar and fat, Onigman says. He joked about Domino's Oreo pizza, saying it reminded him of a Saturday Night Live skit.
Travel plays a role in our diet, especially when there are so few options of healthy food that can stay fresh for long periods of time, Onigman says. Freshman college students who battle the “freshman 15” face no restrictions on their diet once they leave home.
Onigman concluded the seminar by discussing the idea that the anti-smoking campaign that began 10-15 years ago may have correlated with the start of the obesity epidemic. An interesting idea, and one that needs further investigation.