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As predicted, the wellness vendors are not conceding defeat

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Like Japanese soldiers at the end of World War II (including the one who briefly took the seven stranded castaways prisoner), many wellness vendors are refusing to concede that the war is over. Here are three examples.

First is Vitality Group. Their oxymoronic Chief Actuarial Officer, writing in Employee Benefit News, claims that the BJ’s Wholesale Club study was inadequately focused on healthy behavior change

Healthy behavior change should be the central tenet of wellness programs, since short-termism is woefully inadequate for an area as complex as health. To this end, conceptually simply — yet scientifically-robust — interventions have been found to be effective drivers of behavior. 

One of the many things wellness vendors don’t understand, along with facts, data, math, and wellness, is irony. It is indeed ironic that a company which couldn’t get its own employees to lose weight is complaining because a program couldn’t get employees to lose weight.  Vitality’s “healthy behavior change” caused employee eating habits to deteriorate — once again, according to Vitality itself.

Next you have Steve Aldana of Wellsteps claiming in Kaiser Health News that:

for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

Except that his own study did exactly the opposite. It turned out that taking Wellsteps’ advice will increase your risk factors and cause your self-perceived health to deteriorate.

Finally, Jim Pshock of Bravo was also quoted in that article, complaining about the level of incentives not being great enough to get people to do things they weren’t going to do anyway. Urging employers to give away more money is exactly the opposite of what Bravo typically does, which is fine employees the maximum possible and then brag about how much money employees can save immediately because many employees refuse to participate, preferring to lose the money than to let Bravo play doctor with them.

They missed the best argument against the validity of this study

Ironically, the one legitimate argument that none of the wellness promoters have made is that Professor Baicker picked the dumbest wellness vendor imaginable, Wellness Workdays, to conduct the study. Along with Wellsteps, Bravo, and, of course, Interactive Health, they comprise the wellness industry’s Axis of Stupid.

Wellness Workdays is a classic wellness vendor. That is to say, they won’t be winning a Nobel Prize anytime soon, or even a spelling bee. Let’s start by examining their analytic and clinical prowess.

To start with, their “White Paper” doesn’t just quote the infamous 3.27-to-1. They’ve upped the ante to 6.00 to 1, maintaining the two significant digits while almost doubling the savings.  How? They’ve added the 3.27-to-1 for healthcare savings to the 2.73-to-1 for absenteeism reduction from that same 2010 study. Those two separate conclusions were reached from almost totally different studies. Anyone can tell that from reading the original.  Anyone, that is, except Wellness Workdays.

Their analytic qualifications are matched only by their clinical qualifications. One member of their medical advisory board is Chief of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, Florida.  While this expertise is not exactly central to the mission of the pry,poke, and prod industry, in all fairness it should be noted that the Indian River Medical Center runs one of the better allergy programs in all of Vero Beach.

Another is an OB-GYN in Colorado.  Perhaps this advisor will develop a protocol for employees who want to be screened and induced at the same time.  A third consults to orthopedists at “Lennox Hill Hospital,” a role that probably doesn’t require too much heavy lifting, because there is no hospital by that name.

lenox hill

This guy is also an expert on steroids and other performance-enhancing products, and has “published rseveral esearch studies.”

wellness workdays

So they can’t spell, can’t proofread, can’t understand study design, and can’t cobble together a qualified advisory board.  In other words, to paraphrase the immortal words of those great philosophers Gilbert & Sullivan, they are the very model of a modern clueless wellness vendor.

They also appear to have forgotten to update their website since they didn’t get the outcomes they are “driven” by:

As for BJ’s Wholesale Club, I suspect they got suckered into this. Who volunteers to become the next Pepsico, a case study of how wellness programs fail?

In any case, we think Professor Baicker’s study is first rate, and apparently there is another one coming up, a sequel.

Or perhaps, since this is in conjunction with Wellness Workdays, to rseveral esearch studies.




  1. Tom Emerick says:

    the wellness true believers will fight these truths to the death.


  2. williammcpeck says:

    Geez Al, cut Dr. Schlifstein and Wellness Workdays some slack will ya. They may actually be well ahead of the worksite wellness curve here. As long as employers continue to create and operate unhealthy workplaces with unhealthy cultures and employers continue following the Do More With Less philosophy which beats employees up, the use of performance enhancing drugs may actually be the next emerging frontier of worksite wellness. Where do I get me some of them there pills? I wonder if Dr. Schlifstein will come to Maine?


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