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Vitality’s Glass House: Their Own Wellness Program Fails Their Own Employees

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By now our mantra is well-known amongst the Welligentsia: “In wellness, you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it. You merely have to read the data. It will invalidate itself.”

Today’s example: Vitality Group. They have already been profiled here, as one of the approximately eleventy zillion wellness vendors who don’t understand wellness.  Their customer, McKesson, was also profiled for showing massive savings despite the apparent failure of their wellness program to make a nontrivial impact on smoking or weight or anything else. Even Employee Benefit News piled on that one.

However, if there is anyplace wellness should work, it’s at a wellness vendor, right? After all, it’s a closed system. There is huge bias among the investigators, the subjects of the experiment self-select to go work at a wellness vendor, and presumably they have a state-of-the-art program.  So if Vitality showed positive results at its own workplace, no one would put any stock in them.

But what if they show negative results?  What if a wellness vendor can’t even make wellness work for its own employees despite all the biases, self-selection and program excellence?

In today’s STATNews, Vitality admitted its own inability to both “do wellness” on its own employees and to measure the results of their own programs on their own employees.  According to the article itself, the percentage of employees who are eating badly increased 2 percentage points. This is ironic given that they eat at least one meal a day at work.  So much for “serve healthier food in the company cafeteria,” one of our fallback recommendations that seemed like it couldn’t miss.  Even a wellness company can’t pull it off. (In all fairness, though, I have eaten at Healthways’ cafeteria. The food is fabulous and healthy…and they grow a little of it themselves out back.)

But wait…there’s more.

The weight of employees climbed as well. Employees with high BMIs rose from 58% to 60%.  OK, so employees got fatter. Big deal.  We’ve proven no correlation between weight and financial savings, and we have also urged employers to stop embarrassing employees because of their weight.  Vitality does the opposite — weight-cycling, which is probably unhealthy. They promote a biggest-loser program called the “10-Ton Challenge” to see which department can lose the most weight.

What makes this a classic wellness story is that “employees lost a collective 210 inches from their waist circumference.”  How can BMIs be rising at the same time waistlines are shrinking? Perhaps everyone is popping steroids, so their weight is being redistributed? Or maybe BMI is, as many people have said for years, the wrong measure?  Or maybe they are not counting employees who gain weight, a la ShapeUp?

Whatever it is, in classic wellness vendor fashion and as our mantra predicts, Vitality has now proven exactly the opposite of what it intended to prove, which is that their own program doesn’t work in their own company. Their “collective” weight-loss claims self-invalidate due to a fundamental, massive, inconsistency in their own reported findings that, in classic wellness vendor fashion, they didn’t explain — either because they didn’t notice or figured we wouldn’t notice.

But we did.

 


9 Comments

  1. Mitch says:

    This is really surprising. You’d think they’d be smart enough that if they report their own results, they would either be sure they were positive or lie, though I guess by now we all know that positive results ARE lying.

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  2. Marissa says:

    I think this is the first time a vendor has ever simply admitted they can’t do their job, right? Though in this industry that doesn’t seem to matter.

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      You can bet that none of their customers or prospects will notice or care, so Vitality’s candor won’t cost them any business.

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  3. Tom says:

    Al:

    Here’s another one for you. It references the Vitality study. http://www.statnews.com/2016/01/22/publicizing-employee-health-data/

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      STAT is a great source of healthcare and life sciences news on a daily basis. It may be the only offering of this genre despite healthcare being a $3-trillion industry. I recommend everyone to follow the link and subscribe. Thanks for the headsup.

      Like

  4. Ryan says:

    Vitality is the vendor of choice for my current employer. I’ve seen first hand the weight cycling promoting initiatives as well as the lack of results. All this despite a new streamlined website they guaranteed would improve engagement.

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  5. Ian Duncan says:

    I will read the report. But i have two reactions: 1) is this a cross-sectional or longitudinal study? and 2) what are the confidence intervals around the quoted variables?

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Hi Stranger! Long time! Thanks for the comment. I think there is no concept of a “confidence interval” because it’s the entire population of all their employees. No sampling involved. I could be wrong about that, so let me know.

      It’s also not clear how many people were involved in the cumulative waist circumference measurement but any company that actually thinks it’s meaningful to cite that statistic without saying how many people were involved or explaining how this figure goes in the opposite direction from their other figure has zero credibility in my book.

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  6. […] though, during that same Davos meeting, Vitality also candidly admitted that their wellness services don’t work even in the best-case scenario of their own employees.  That admission undermines the […]

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