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Faith and Well-being

Iowa HealthThe Daniel Plan?

I recently read an article in TIME magazine (June 11) about how a Bible passage is impacting a mega-church in California…but in a way one would not expect. Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, discovered his church members were a bit heavier (weight-wise) while he and other pastors were baptizing about 800 congregants during a four hour period (they estimated about 160,000 pounds of people were baptized that day). Warren, by the way, authored the immensely popular book, “The Purpose Driven Life”.

From this experience, Warren used a passage in the Book of Daniel describing a story of four Jewish boys who refused to “defile themselves” with meat and wine offered by King Nebuchadnezzar. Instead they chose vegetables and water and grew fitter (and apparently much healthier).

Armed with this biblical story, Warren launched the Daniel Plan – a health and fitness program for congregation members who wish to participate. The program begins with a diet of 70% unprocessed fruits and vegetables and 30% lean protein, whole grains and starchy veggies. In addition, this plan includes exercise groups, nutrition training, sports, recipe tips, small support-group meetings, and many other programs. The results since implementation (January, 2011) are very impressive. About 15,000 people have signed up to participate in this program, and it is estimated that the church has lost 260,000 pounds in this last year (Warren is shooting for 800,000 lbs). Warren intends to take this program internationally in the future.

So why am I writing about this?

For me, it’s encouraging to learn that people can collectively work together to accomplish a common goal to lead healthier lives. This particular situation stems from a faith-based community that provides the accountability and support measures needed to make this a successful endeavor. The TIME article does mention how important faith is to ones’ mental and physical well-being. In fact, various studies show that faith and health mix quite well with one another. For example, people who attend church service may be less apt to die in a given year when compared to those who don’t attend a faith-based service. People who help others tend to have a healthier profile. There are many other studies that link faith to good health.

Here in Iowa, the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative  provides a somewhat similar approach through personal connections (small groups, community involvement, etc). The spiritual component found in the Daniel Plan is very intriguing to me.

Employee Loyalty – A Huge ‘Benefit’

David P. Lind BenchmarkAccording to MetLife’s 10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends report (released in March 2012), only 42 percent of employees indicated they felt a strong sense of loyalty toward their employer – a seven-year low. Interestingly within this same report, 59 percent of employers felt a strong sense of loyalty toward their employees…a seven-year high!

Another part of this study caught my attention, yet I’m not all that surprised.

About 61 percent of employees (generations included – Boomers, X, and Y) who were very satisfied with their benefits said they felt a strong sense of loyalty to their employer versus only 24 percent of employees who were very dissatisfied with their benefits. If offering strong benefits provides greater loyalty from employees is more causation (rather than a correlation), employers have hope on developing a long-lasting sense of loyalty to their employees.

Not a bad thing!

A few other interesting tidbits from this study include:

  • More than half of surveyed employees (58 percent) said that benefits were an important reason to stay with their employer, and this was highest among Generation Y (born 1981 – 1994) at 63 percent and with Generation X (born 1965 – 1980) who followed at 62 percent.
  • While 66 percent of employees said that health benefits were an important driver of their loyalty, only 57 percent of EMPLOYERS believed this to be the case.  Hmmm…
  • 59 percent of employees indicated that retirement benefits were “very important” when influencing loyalty to their employer, while only 42 percent of employers recognize this. Another Hmmm…
  • A large majority of employers see opportunities to leverage their benefits programs to engage their employees. Leveraging benefits can retain employees more effectively, increase employee productivity, and attract employees.

How loyal are your employees? If loyalty is high, maybe your benefits package is a bigger contributor than you might think. If it is low, there is hope, according to this study! Offering quality employee benefits can be very expensive, but it might be more costly to NOT offer such benefits.

Trust, but Verify

David P. Lind Benchmark“Fair and balanced.”

You hear this phrase from many different sources. It conjures up something within us that we all desire to have when making critical decisions. Understanding the pros and cons on any given issue is important to most of us. But do we really receive the “truth” or the “transparency” that will allow us to draw our own conclusions on the subject matter at hand? It really depends on the source of the information…so I believe.

The reason for this particular blog stems from a presentation that I recently gave at the “2012 Iowa Employment Conference” in Altoona. Much of my presentation focused on the health insurance trends in Iowa based on our annual studies. The trends by the way, are dismal at best, unsustainable at worst (another blog for later). When discussing potential solutions for employers, a few topics were breached such as consumer-driven health plans, wellness initiatives, and health reform measures. I mentioned that each topic will usually have many arguments (both pro and con), in addition to having both intended and unintended consequences. To know the subject matter well, I suggested to the audience to have a comfort level with their SOURCE of information (publications, media outlets, research organizations, etc.).

Much to my surprise, a hand was raised that followed with this question: “Which sources do YOU trust?” This question came out of the blue for me, but was asked in a thoughtful manner. I don’t quite remember my response that day, but since that presentation, I have had time to further reflect on this question. The word ‘Trust’ is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Another definition is “one in which confidence is placed.” I like both.

Regarding health care related stuff (including health insurance programs offered by employers), I TRUST a few particular sources. Each source has earned my trust over the years due to consistent research that attempts to factor out biases that typically are inherent in any type of research. Also, the authors of such research will generally disclose any potential outside influences that may mitigate the truthfulness of the results.

In no particular order, my short list of trusted sources is found below:

  • Health Affairs Journal – Many authors (national and international experts) write thought-provoking articles on highly researched thematic topics each month.  This is the gold standard because the information is fresh and relevant at all times. I also download their free podcasts and listen to them while I run in the morning. A subscription is necessary for this journal…but it is well worth the investment.
  • RAND Corporation – RAND provides objective research on many issues, including healthcare. Rand provides very innovative material…much of it can be found on their website at no cost!
  • Kaiser Family Foundation – Most information is at no cost…and there is a ton of information on many different health topics. A great go-to source!
  • Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care – The pioneer on the disparity of health care delivery in the U.S.

There are other sources that I highly value, but those sources (at least in my view) tend to be a level below the four mentioned above. Just know that the SOURCE of information is just as important as the content of the information being conveyed.

President Reagan adopted a signature phrase and made famous when discussing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union:  “Trust, but verify.” This phrase can also be applied to healthcare information and many other topics!