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.