We don’t make a lot of New Year’s predictions, but we are happy to make this one: 2014 will be the year the get-well-quick mentality driving corporate and individual health choices implodes…and people start taking genuine steps to be healthy. The way to ensure that 2014 is your year for good health? Start with a double negative: (a) wellness industry advice is almost always wrong; and (b) most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. Hence, making the New Year’s resolutions recommended by the wellness industry is not the best way of ensuring your good health in 2014.
For simplicity, we’ll divide this list into individual and corporate wellness industry resolutions, and start with individual ones.
Take more health advice from celebrities. Whether it’s hoping that Kim Kardashian’s personal trainer can help you or pining for Dr. Oz to cure what ails you with green coffee bean extract and raspberry ketones, a good way to put off doing worthwhile things is to do worthless ones.
Start a weight loss program. The medical establishment could not head off the obesity dilemma at the pass, and they have no solution for it now, other than to crow about more drug companies diving into this expanding market. There is zero evidence that weight loss programs can produce sustainable long-term weight loss (and much evidence that they don’t), and we don’t know of a single one shown to improve fitness. That will not, however, prevent weight loss companies from trying to claim their little piece of the wellness landscape because they are losing so many individual customers to free dieting apps, such as LoseIt.com. Improve the quality of your diet first, and weight loss may follow, which is a bonus.
Give yourself a cleanse. America’s obsession with cleanliness is now running smack into the reality of evolution and human physiology. Surely if bacteria in your colon were bad for you, mankind would have died out eons ago.
Stock up on supplements. The only things better than raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract: all the other vitamin and mineral supplements on the market that fail to make sick people better or healthy people healthier. Who’s left to try to help, Martians? Never mind that risk is not endlessly reducible and the four most important things you can do for your health don’t come out of a bottle of magic jujubes: exercise, don’t smoke, eat well, and keep as close to a healthy weight as you can.
Remove saturated fat from your diet. Just like in the 1960s, when we all traded in “the high-priced spread” for sticks of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils fit for a king to avoid saturated fat, we may be mis-demonizing this longstanding and naturally occurring component of our diet. The entire nutrition dialectic in our culture over the past 20 years has focused on a string of individual no-nos: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and now refined grains and sugars (because we bought the government’s wrong advice to eat low-fat). It’s time to revive the notion of healthy eating patterns, not healthy eating isolates. In fact, here is the world’s simplest diet advice for 2014: eat less junk. That alone would be a landmark nutritional achievement for Americans.
Eat organic and stay away from Starbucks. Within a week of each other, the New York Times published an account of a woman damaging her health eating an obsessively healthy and organic diet, and USA Today wrote of another who ate exclusively at Starbucks for a year, with no apparent ill effects and no weight gain.
Go to the Emergency Room for care. Who needs a sensible approach to personal health management when you can just get an insurance card and treat yourself to the most expensive kind of care possible in the emergency room? And, so far, this is just what newly enrolled Medicaid recipients did. Wait and see what happens when everyone else starts following the ACA’s ridiculous use-medical-care-early-and-often provisions.
Next, some New Year’s resolutions recommended by corporate wellness programs.
Get screened early and often. Doing more of something that is more often harmful than helpful only increases the likelihood of an adverse event, and it spikes spending. The wellness industry generally ignores US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines recommending very infrequent screens, and instead screens people annually, in order to demonstrate activity and hence preserve their jobs.
Complete your Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to plan your prevention strategy. Coincidentally, one HRA this column highlighted in April subsequently removed many of its most egregious prevention recommendations. That vendor neglected to email its HRA users warning them not to do what they were all told to do just a few months earlier. Yet there was always the chance, however slim, that some well-intentioned but naïve schmuck somewhere was, God forbid, actually following those recommendations, as opposed to just completing the HRA to avoid a penalty. To prevent that one-in-a-million chance, it would have been polite to clue people in to the morsel of triviata that most of those recommendations were wrong and some were hazardous.
Go to the doctor even though you aren’t sick. Wellness companies are often measured by how many employees they send to the doctor, while companies often pay their employees to go or fine them for not going once a year. The Affordable Care Act requires a zero copay for these visits as well. One would think with all these forces urging us to get more preventive care, it would be a good idea, but most experts find these to be a potentially harmful waste of time and money. (Curiously, the impending primary care physician shortage could be avoided if those extra 44-million preventive visits went away, but that’s a story for a different column.)
To put wellness in a social media context, it is a massive #fail. No matter whether for individuals or employee groups, this industry confuses more than it enlightens, spends more than it saves, and is insatiable in its demands that we pay more for things that simply don’t work and may harm us. Building a personal health strategy does not require a wellness vendor, personal trainer, or an integrative nutritionist. It requires attention to fundamentals.
In our upcoming books, Surviving Workplace Wellness with Your Dignity, Organs, and Finances Intact (by both of us, with foreword by Tom Emerick) and Your Personal Affordable Care Act: How to Make Yourself Scarce in the Dysfunctional US Healthcare System (by Vik only, with foreword by Al), we’ll lay out common sense, understandable, and actionable strategies for hanging on to your health, your dignity, and your money in 2014.
Happy New Year.
Vik Khanna is a St. Louis-based independent health consultant with extensive experience in managed care and wellness. An iconoclast to the core, he is the author of the Khanna On Health Blog. He is also the Wellness Editor-At-Large for THCB.
Al Lewis is the author of Why Nobody Believes the Numbers, co-author of Cracking Health Costs: How to Cut Your Company’s Health Costs and Provide Employees Better Care, and president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium.
Vik and Al will be the first authors of THCB’s new e-publishing venture. Their jointly authored book, Surviving Workplace Wellness With Your Organs, Dignity, and Finances Intact, will be released in the early Spring 2014. Vik’s solo e-book, Your Personal Affordable Care Act: How To Make Yourself Scarce In The Dysfunctional US Healthcare System will be simultaneously.