More and more employers are recognizing the importance of wellness for their workforce, and are willing to financially reward employees whose health numbers demonstrate they actively improve or maintain their health.  Nutrition Expert Sonya Lewis shares the details on how eating well translates into numbers that impact both your health and your wallet.

October is here, and among the notable dates on the calendar are Halloween, popular rival college football games and Oktoberfest. If you’re like most people who have a full-time job, your employer may host an open enrollment event for you to learn about your health insurance options and deadlines in October. They may also offer a biometric screening program where you can get your free screening done at an onsite event or off-site lab, or at your doctor’s office. This may be the most important date in October since it could mean extra money in your pocket, if your employer offers an incentive.

Incentives for qualifying health measures

According to the 2015-2016 Staying At Work Global Survey, 86% of U.S. employers are offering some type of financial incentive to boost program participation and encourage employees to take greater responsibility for their health. Your employer may offer a discount on your health insurance or a contribution to your flexible spending account or health savings account if your biometric screening values fall into a desirable range. 2016 final wellness regulations allow U.S. employers that provide voluntary wellness programs to offer incentives of up to 30% of the self-only health plan coverage cost each year.

Let’s look at an example:

Your employer offers a health insurance premium incentive, if you meet 3 of 5 biometric criteria:

  1. BMI:  <27
  2. Blood pressure: < 130/90
  3. Total cholesterol: HDL cholesterol  ratio < 4.5
  4. LDL cholesterol: < 120
  5. Total cholesterol: < 200

At your biometric screening, you learned your BMI is 26, your LDL cholesterol is 110 and your total cholesterol is 180. You qualify for the incentive and your healthier eating habits are about to pay off. If the employee-only coverage costs $6,000, you would qualify for up to $1,800, or 30% of the cost of self-only coverage that year. More take-home pay gives you money to start a savings plan, take a family vacation or pay down debt.

Realizing the value of eating healthy

When we meet these markers and qualify for associated financial incentives, we experience the real monetary value of eating healthy. Biometric screenings commonly measure your weight and height to calculate your BMI (body mass index), your cholesterol values (good, bad and total cholesterol, and the ratio of good cholesterol to total), your blood pressure and your blood glucose. Nutrition directly impacts all these values, so if you are eating a balanced diet with more fruits and vegetables and less meats, cheeses and high fat dairy foods, you may be able to both lower your cholesterol and qualify for a lower insurance premium at the same time.

Some of the most common measures tied to health insurance incentives are:

  • Body Mass Index (BMI) – According to the Obesity Action Coalition, studies have shown that losing just 5-10% of body weight can lead to health benefits. Qualified nutrition professionals can help you lose weight in a sustainable way so you continue to reap the benefits of weight loss beyond the incentive-qualifying period.
  • Blood pressure – Improvements can start by incorporating a balanced diet of reduced sodium and adding other beneficial nutrients, while getting the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week. And, an average decrease of 5 mm Hg can be seen from losing just 5-10% of body weight, which could reduce your dependence on medications to manage blood pressure – or even eliminate a medication co-pay.
  • Cholesterol should focus on decreasing your bad (LDL) cholesterol while raising your HDL (good) cholesterol. This begins by reducing your saturated fat intake from animal foods, like higher-fat cuts of beef and yellow cheeses, incorporating healthier fats like walnuts and avocados, and getting vigorous exercise each week. A 5-10% weight decrease can also raise your HDL by 5 points.

Creating an action plan before your screening and incentive deadline with a nutrition professional can have a positive impact on your measured numbers, optimizing your chances to qualify for the incentive. Even if you don’t get the numbers that you would like, it’s never too late to improve them.

Sonya Lewis, MA, MCHES, RDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Dallas, TX, specializing in helping people achieve better health numbers for a healthier life.  As a health educator, she helps individuals improve their health numbers at biometric screening events and through corporate wellness programs.  Find out more about Sonya at 2 A Healthier You.

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