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Wellsteps stumbles over their own words

Often I don’t have time to write a full blog in my own words, but fortunately I usually don’t need to. It’s enough to quote the words of the very stable geniuses in the wellness industry verbatim. Being quoted verbatim, of course, is one of these geniuses’ worst nightmares.

Among the most stable of the wellness industry geniuses is Steve Aldana, CEO of Wellsteps, winner of the 2016 Koop Award as well as the 2016 Deplorables Award. How does he report the National Bureau of Economic Research’s complete evisceration of wellness industry research methods? Let’s take a looksee at the highlights of his posting.

First, it appears that two opposing studies, “one for and one against wellness,” came out “at the same time.”

One the one hand, someone — apparently he doesn’t know who — seems to say that there “wasn’t much improvement” at the University of Illinois.  And something must have been wrong with this result, because “these results contradict over 90% of publish [sic] studies.”

“At the same time,” a publication no one has heard of found the opposite: health behaviors improved for “over 2 full years” in — get ready — one of Wellsteps’ very own accounts.

This is a textbook example of a false equivalence, the wellness version of: “You also had some people that were very fine people on both sides.”

To begin with, the researchers in the first group weren’t just any old researchers. This was the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). And the NBER didn’t say “they didn’t see much improvement.” Their specific words were that the causal effects were — get ready — nearly indistinguishable from zero for nearly every outcome.

Further to say this conclusion “contradicts over 90% of published studies about wellness,” would be like saying Galileo’s findings “contradicted” over 90% of published studies about astronomy.

The study’s actual conclusion used a slightly different verb:

Our 95% confidence intervals rule out 78 percent of previous estimates [of the effect of wellness] on medical spending and absenteeism from the prior literature. [Let me translate that, in case the words are too long for the very stable geniuses at Wellsteps to understand: you and all your very stable friends have been geniusing about savings for decades now.]

The reason the NBER was able to be so conclusive is that, to quote one of our Alert Readers, Robert Dawkins: “They foolishly included a valid control group.” Kudos to Mr. Dawkins for that very unstable moronic observation. (In any event, far from contradicting other research, the study is quite consistent with most articles on wellness not written by someone feeding at the employer wellness trough.)

The other journal, which published an article “at the same time,” found an improvement in healthy behaviors. That journal is called Health Promotion Practice. And if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve got company. Their “impact factor” is the lowest in an industry whose journals are notable for low impact factors. I googled quite extensively, and it appears — get ready — that no article from this journal has ever been cited, excerpted or even had the fact of its very existence even grudgingly acknowledged in the lay or scholarly media.

By contrast, the NBER article has been picked up everywhere — except of course by the wellness industry. See if you can find any reference to this article — or AARP v. EEOC, which was also national news — on the Health Enhancement Research Organization website.

Turns out there’s a reason no one cites this journal. It’s because it’s so genius. Exhibit A is this very same article, a rehash of the Boise School District findings that somehow overlooked the key finding, which is that the employees got unhealthier during Wellsteps’ program. Instead, the author — displaying not the slightest intellectual curiosity as to how this could possibly be true — reports the most genius findings we’ve ever seen in a journal:

  • only 3% of Boise School District employees smoke, and…
  • …they smoke only 4 days a week.

Perhaps — just playing devil’s advocate here — the other 17% of Boise employees who smoke (Idaho has a 20% smoking rate) might have lied on their health risk assessment? The “tell” is that everybody knows smokers don’t smoke only 4 days a week. Obviously, they smoke 5 days a week, with time off for weekends, major holidays and Beethoven’s Birthday.

Very stable genius that he is, the author (both a friend of Wellsteps’ Mr. Aldana, according to the disclosure statement, and also a genius who has already been profiled on this site for his previous insights) also admits that with a high non-participation rate and a 20% dropout rate:

There exists the possibility of selection or dropout bias that could have influenced the results reported.

Ya think? Maybe just a tiny bit?

But wait…there’s more

We’ve highlighted Mr. Aldana’s phrase “at the same time” describing how these articles were simultaneously published. We repeated the phrase in three separate places above for emphasis because — get ready — these two results were not published at anything like the same time.

To begin with, Mr. Aldana has been very stably geniusing about his Boise results for more than two years now. (See my article from September 2015 accurately forecasting that, thanks to the number of obvious errors and self-immolating contradictions, this study would win a Koop Award. And of course the Boise employees got harmed.)

This article, using that same data set, was published last July, whereas the NBER article just came out a few weeks ago. Perhaps in some geologic sense July 2017 and January 2018 are “the same time,” but imagine if the rest of the world defined “at the same time” as “six months apart.” For instance, let’s join Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the Wayback Machine and set the dial for June 1944:

Eisenhower: “OK, we’ll storm Omaha and Utah Beaches, and you guys can storm Juno and Sword Beaches at the same time, and then we’ll hook up and say…”

Churchill: “…Merry Christmas, chaps.”

For a good time, try googling on Wellsteps.

And no need to google on their “ROI Calculator.”  I’ve done it for you.

Orriant publishes wellness data in Journal of Workplace Health Management and no one cares

Orriant, Ray Merrill

Category:  Wellness

Short Summary of Company’s Marketing Claim:

“A New Scientific Study Proves Wellness Works”

Materials Being Reviewed:

Questions for Orriant and Ray Merrill:

When you say “a new internationally-published study proves wellness works,” are you taking into account that the “international” journal publishing the work has a Zero impact factor, meaning that essentially no one believes anything they publish has enough value to cite?

ANS: Refused to answer

Are you attributing the fact that “participants had fewer health claims than non-participants” to your program, rather than to the obvious non-observable variable that participants are motivated whereas non-participants are not?

ANS: Refused to answer

Are you familiar with Health Fitness Corporation’s demonstration that participants will outperform non-participants even in the absence of a program? (See the year 2005 below — no program but participants outperformed non-participants nonetheless.)

total savings chart

ANS: Refused to answer

You also note that “those with the greatest health risks” had the most improvement.”  Are you familiar with Dee Edington’s work that says those with the greatest health risks will improve the most even in the absence of a program, due to the natural flow of risk?

Dee Edington's Diagram

ANS: Refused to answer

Non-participants’ medical costs were “2.9x greater” (about $4000 vs. about $1400).   This, of course, is the record for the hugest savings ever claimed from a wellness program.  Since government data shows that wellness-sensitive medical events account for only 4% of total costs or about $200/person, where did the other $2400/person in savings come from?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why didn’t the authors plausibility-check the entire population using a wellness-sensitive medical event analysis?

 ANS: Refused to answer

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