Changing a person’s behavior is obviously no easy feat. But as Dr. Arthur M. Southam reminded those attending yesterday’s opening the session of IBI/NBCH Health and Productivity Forum at the Fairmont San Francisco, it’s an absolute necessity if employers are ever going to successfully get their hands around the “root causes” of America’s healthcare woes.
Southam, executive vice president of health plan operations for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundations Hospitals in Oakland, suggested to those attending the meeting (produced by the Integrated Benefits Institute and National Business Coalition on Health) that a significant portion of the problem can be tied to just four behaviors: diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol. “If we can address these four issues, then we’re on our way to tackling 70, 80 or 90 percent of the possible causes …” he said.
Not surprisingly, Southam spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the issue of obesity. Despite all of the attention it’s received in recent years, Southam reported that obesity rates continue to soar and, in turn, “undermine everything else we’re working on.”
While awareness and education are important, Southam believes they represent only a small part of the solution. Much more important, he said, are the skills and tools for supporting behavioral change. Southam pointed out that mobile devices and social media, in particular, represent the next frontiers in changing behaviors, especially when they give employees the ability to interact with others who have similar conditions.
Through extensive research, Southam said, he’s also identified a “miracle prescription” that can go a long way to providing relief.
“We’ve come up with a technology that is both preventative and therapeutic,” he said. “It significantly improves obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, respiratory disease and a host of other conditions. It significantly reduces time-off, has no side-effects, comes at a very low cost and requires a minimal up-front investment.
“Everyone can do it and it has an addictive potential … ”
What’s it called? “Walking!”
Were every American to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week, Southam said, the rate of Type 2 diabetes would be cut in half. That’s right, half!
I imagine it wasn’t a coincidence that pretty much everyone skipped the escalator and took the stairs as they left for the evening reception in the Fairmont’s Crown Room.