Combination of genetic testing, custom nutrition/exercise/mental wellbeing planning, and personal coaching thwarts chronic metabolic diseases through habit change.
The most effective approach to treating chronic disease today focuses on behavior change and prevention. Condition management is yesterday’s innovation; the real key is keeping healthy people healthy in the first place. Smart preventative treatment involves highly personalized experiences informed by behavioral genetic testing to design the right nutrition + exercise + mental wellbeing recommendations delivered through a personal health coach. This combination has achieved remarkable success both warding off chronic disease before it arrives and slowing and reversing disease where it appears.
Here’s a quick review of the staggering impact chronic disease is currently having on today’s population. Then, we’ll take a closer look at how and why the three-pronged approach to behavioral change and better health is so effective.
Chronic Disease Epidemic
The U.S. and its workforce is increasingly aging, obese and suffering from chronic disease. A full 24% of the workforce is 55 or older, according to the CDC, and hypertension affects almost half of that population. Today’s top causes of death include heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and diabetes. All appear far more prevalently among today’s workforce than in generations past because of both age and a more sedentary lifestyle.
Covid vigorously exacerbated our already bad national health condition. Millions of us have gained weight. NPR reports we almost universally took on bad habits, becoming more sedentary, drinking more and neglecting our care in everything from cholesterol checks to cancer screenings. Psychological stress grew. Various studies reported increases in post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive disorders, delirium, somatic symptoms, panic disorder, psychosis, harmful substance use, despair, self-harm and even suicide. Roughly 40% of the Americans – 400,000 people! – who tragically perished from Covid had Type 2 Diabetes. Today, six in 10 U.S. adults have a chronic disease according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and nearly 30 percent suffer from multiple chronic diseases.
Effective Habit Building
Preventative health programs offered through employers and health plans are helping people at risk who voluntarily choose to participate achieve impressive results in effectively warding off the most disastrous effects of our current chronic disease epidemic. Here’s how they work.
To participate in such programs, individuals determine their “at risk” status through biometric measures (if they’ve been screened previously) or by taking a simple online assessment. Once qualified, individuals begin a highly personalized journey to improve numerous physical and mental aspects – everything from their waist circumference, blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol to behavioral measures related to anxiety, depression, resilience, sleep and mood. Each participant receives an individually tailored plan and ongoing support to help them move forward and meet their goals.
To be effective, preventative health programs need to address three necessary and complementary components: genetic analysis, custom nutritional, exercise, and mental wellbeing planning, and coach-aided habit change.
– Behavioral genetic testing. Solid preventative health programs offer insights based on the presence or absence of a compilation of extensively researched behavioral genetic variants – for example, alleles of genes related to weight loss, stress and lifestyle. The genes involved may include ones like FTO (aka “The Body Fat Gene”), DRD2 (“The Cravings Gene”), MC4R (“The Appetite Gene”), and BDNF (“The Resilience to Stress Gene”). Folks who have the “fat gene,” for example, have a harder time breaking down and using carbs. Folks with the “cravings gene” are susceptible to eating food to stimulate the pleasure centers of their brains which might not be receiving enough dopamine. When you have the “appetite gene,” it might mean your brain is a bit slower than your stomach in understanding when you are full, meaning you could be unusually susceptible to overeating. Finally, low levels of the “resilience to stress” gene in the brain tend to increase appetite and decrease energy expenditure, both of which can lead to overeating and weight gain. Each of these circumstances can be effectively addressed and mitigated through customized nutritional, exercise and mental wellbeing recommendations.
– Custom nutritional, exercise and mental wellbeing planning. Lifestyle programs are custom-built for plan participants and designed in line with what their genetic testing reveals as well as any conditions they may currently be suffering from (or are most worried about preventing) and their lifestyles. Participants learn how different types of food affect their bodies, what’s involved in metabolism and digestion, and how varying times of day or stress levels can affect their consumption habits. They gain tips and tricks for eating well and building sustainable, healthy habits for lasting weight control. Individualized exercise plans are provided to help participants reach their fitness goals. Participants also receive guidance and instruction regarding resilience and mindfulness, as well as education on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and coping strategies.
– Health coaching. Every individual engaged in a three-pronged prevention plan receives the guidance, motivation and support of a dedicated health coach. Unlike trainers you find in gyms or teachers of a pre-set curriculum, effective health coaches provide more than mere instruction. These coaches have training in nutrition, exercise, and cognitive behavioral therapy and are focused on the entire spectrum of wellbeing. They are part habit change designer, part behavior change expert and serve as confidantes, accountability partners and resources with no agenda other than helping you become your best self. Over time, they both monitor progress and help individuals fine-tune their approach.
These preventative health programs often measure success in large part by tracking engagement levels and improvement in whole health outcomes – improvements in both physical and mental health factors. How often are employees and members reaching their health goals? How fully are employees and members remaining engaged and sticking with their habits over time? How likely are engaged employees and members to refer others? Look for answers of 80% or greater in each case.
The Smart Way Ahead
Employers and health plans today evaluating future healthcare expenses for their populations realize they face steep cost pressures and that the incidence of chronic diseases in today’s populations is growing and life-threatening.
A platform that generates personalized health programs and creates healthy lifelong habits promises a revolution of relief by preventing, reversing and slowing chronic disease. Such a platform not only saves costs but can be profitable and self-funding within as little as a year, as peer-reviewed evidence demonstrates. Such a platform can also curate and optimize existing benefits or value-added services for employers and health plans.
Employees and members who develop new and sustainable healthy habits become happier, have greater focus and are more productive. This helps shrink costs associated with the chronic disease epidemic as well as promoting individuals to live their best lives. That sure sounds like the health care we all aspire to.
About Jeff Ruby
Jeff Ruby is founder and CEO of Newtopia, a tech-enabled habit change provider focused on disease prevention and reducing the cost of care for risk-bearing entities like large, self-insured employers. A health innovator with an extensive entrepreneurial track record in preventive health, Ruby was Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cleveland Clinic Canada, a collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Canyon Ranch. Before that, he served as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Life Screening Centers, a cancer screening and prevention company. He has a joint Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration (JD/MBA) from Osgoode Hall and the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western University. Ruby is a global thought leader and expert on scalable and sustainable behavior change.