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Debra Wein

I’ve always felt that if individuals had more education and understanding of nutrition and healthy lifestyle principles, we could literally change lives


The City of Portland in Maine, US is investing in a customised wellness programme for its entire workforce. The local government authority – which employs more than 1,400 people – has appointed corporate health specialist Wellness Workdays to create the programme.

It’s the latest contract for the company, which is also working with Harvard School of Public Health on a large-scale study into the effectiveness of worksite wellness programmes. 

Tell us about the deal you’ve struck with Portland
More organisations and municipalities are learning the true benefits of strategic and comprehensive approaches, which include promoting a wellness culture, enhanced employee recruitment and retention, lower absenteeism, greater productivity, decreased presenteeism and lower healthcare costs. Thus, we are seeing an increase in the number of organisations focusing on wellness – both in the public and private sectors.

What will the wellness programme look like in practice?
We’ve developed a customised wellness programme that incorporates our wellness technology platform with a hands-on approach for employees. Our benefits and wellness portal provides employees with personalised wellbeing strategies, education on a wealth of health topics and fun challenges, while allowing them to track their progress, sync fitness devices, communicate with health coaches and access a wealth of wellness content. 

It also seamlessly integrates with our one-on-one health coaching programme. In addition to personal health coaching, employees will participate in wellness activities and education related to preventive and self-care, nutrition, physical activity, resilience, financial wellness, sleep and smoking cessation.

Are you looking to use this deal as a springboard to secure other contracts?
Our first goal with the City of Portland is to develop a great relationship with our client and its employees and ensure employees are engaging with the programme and developing healthy habits and achieving positive health outcomes. We have found that the best way to win new work is to do a great job for our clients. The stories sell themselves – and our happy clients tell their colleagues!

You’re involved in a research project with Harvard School of Public Health? 
Yes, Wellness Workdays is spearheading a multi-million-dollar corporate wellness research study with the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health. The funding for the project is coming from pretty esteemed institutions – Harvard University, MIT and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

The study will evaluate the effectiveness of wellness programmes on employee health, productivity and healthcare costs and has been a great opportunity to contribute to research and advance the efficacy of wellness. 

The study has been underway for approximately two years now and is scheduled to last one more year (until 2021). It is a double-blind study that will measure the effectiveness of a comprehensive approach to employee wellness in an under-served environment – a diverse and dispersed, multilingual workforce earning minimum wage, many of whom do not have access to technology at work.

Preliminary results of the study have found better health outcomes and behaviours, including better weight management and more regular exercise.

In addition, there were a number of other positive improvements, including:

• consumed more fruits and vegetables

• consumed whole grain and reduced fat foods

• lower unmanaged stress

• had fewer smokers

• had less alcohol use

• an increase in the number of recommended screening tests

• more likely to read the nutrition facts label

• used fewer emergency ER visits

• lower medical spending 

• more visits to their doctor

We were pleased that we were able to see some significant behaviour changes in this population group, as well as true changes in the conversation around wellness both at the clubs and with senior management.

How competitive is the US corporate wellness market?
The market is competitive. More companies are offering various wellness programmes for employers.

Some sell off-the shelf programmes or implement technology that employees can use to self-direct their wellbeing. Often there’s one piece of the puzzle offered – but not a strategy to pull the pieces together. 

There’s room for growth in the industry for companies that are creative and forward-thinking, as there are very few organisations that do wellness well.

Do you work with gyms and health clubs? 
We have clients with on-site fitness centres and we work with their staff to make sure they’re trained and know how to implement our programmes. We also partner with corporate fitness centres that need a wider breadth of wellness programmes, including access to personal health assessments (an integrated, online survey to assess health and lifestyle behaviours and provide feedback on current and future health risks), biometric screening and technology to provide infrastructure for their programmes (eg. online tracking, points programmes, health tracker integration, self-directed education and wellness challenges).

You also have a medical advisory board?
They are instrumental in supporting our programmes and providing insight to the latest trends in health and wellness. With the guidance of this board, we employ a scientific approach when developing our programmes. Each aspect is developed from evidence-based conclusions from current research on nutrition, fitness and worksite wellness.

How have you responded to the pandemic?
Now the majority of our clients’ employees are remote, we’ve taken steps to ensure employees are still engaging in our wellness programmes. Employee wellness in the face of COVID-19 is more important than ever. Data confirms that individuals with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes are at greater risk of complications from the coronavirus.

To address the needs of remote workforces, we’ve re-examined each client’s wellness programme communications strategy to determine whether they need to make any changes to reach and engage their employees.

The most effective programmes take into account the current work from home situation that so many employees find themselves in, and incorporate everything from physical and mental health to exercising with kids and healthy eating programmes.

We’ve moved all of our programming online and our technology platform allows us to consistently interact and engage with employees. We’re offering virtual components to our programmes, including workshops, videos and wellness coaching to facilitate fitness and proper nutrition. The virtual programmes provide employees with the opportunity to come together and socialise with one another, helping them feel connected, engaged and more productive. Additional programmes that may be helpful to a remote workforce include offering employees reimbursement for ergonomic home office equipment, hosting virtual workout classes for employees and their families, and offering cooking demos to provide suggestions for quick and healthy meals.

What other initiatives have you been delivering?
We recently launched our “From Surviving to Thriving” programme, which we’re offering to all US employers, whether they’re current clients or not. The initiative is designed to help employers improve employee wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic and focuses on employee engagement, communications and population health management.

It includes easily accessible and frequently updated resources for employers, including checklists and case studies, complimentary webinars led by industry experts, thought leadership articles, and 90-day complimentary access to our wellness portal.

While the technology includes all aspects of wellbeing, employers can choose to target specific campaigns during the 90 days that address their employees’ needs, including resilience and positivity, mindfulness, financial wellness, healthy eating and/or physical activity.

About Debra Wein

After earning BS and MS degrees in nutritional sciences and applied physiology from Cornell and Columbia, Wein became a registered dietitian. She then co-founded Sensible Nutrition to teach individuals and organisations how to improve health through nutrition.

After designing and developing employee wellness programmes, Wein realised she could have a greater impact by focusing on employee populations. She founded Wellness Workdays in 2004 and became a certified Wellness Programme Director and a certified Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) faculty member.

She also developed the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship (WWDI), which trains 95 dietitians a year, who focus on areas of worksite wellness, health promotion and nutrition.

Wein credits her passion for wellness to experiences during her formative years.

"It astounds me that 80% or more of all healthcare spending in the US is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in poor lifestyle choices"

“When I was growing up, several family members suffered from chronic diseases and in past generations the idea of prevention, chronic disease management and the ill effects of smoking were not as well appreciated,” she says. 

“I began to understand that many health problems could be avoided with proper nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices.

“It astounds me that 80 per cent or more of all healthcare spending in the US is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in poor lifestyle choices.

“Chronic diseases and conditions – such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and multiple types of cancer – are among the most common, costly and preventable of all health conditions. I’ve always felt that if individuals had more education and understanding of nutrition and healthy lifestyle principles, we could literally change lives.”

Employee workplace wellness in the face of COVID-19 is more important than ever Credit: LightField Studios / shutterstock
Wellness Workdays’ programme has been found to prompt lower levels of unmanaged stress Credit: wavebreakmedia / shutterstock
The Harvard study found education led to better food choices Credit: Luna Vandoorne / shutterstock
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Jobs   News   Products   Magazine
HCM People
Debra Wein

I’ve always felt that if individuals had more education and understanding of nutrition and healthy lifestyle principles, we could literally change lives


The City of Portland in Maine, US is investing in a customised wellness programme for its entire workforce. The local government authority – which employs more than 1,400 people – has appointed corporate health specialist Wellness Workdays to create the programme.

It’s the latest contract for the company, which is also working with Harvard School of Public Health on a large-scale study into the effectiveness of worksite wellness programmes. 

Tell us about the deal you’ve struck with Portland
More organisations and municipalities are learning the true benefits of strategic and comprehensive approaches, which include promoting a wellness culture, enhanced employee recruitment and retention, lower absenteeism, greater productivity, decreased presenteeism and lower healthcare costs. Thus, we are seeing an increase in the number of organisations focusing on wellness – both in the public and private sectors.

What will the wellness programme look like in practice?
We’ve developed a customised wellness programme that incorporates our wellness technology platform with a hands-on approach for employees. Our benefits and wellness portal provides employees with personalised wellbeing strategies, education on a wealth of health topics and fun challenges, while allowing them to track their progress, sync fitness devices, communicate with health coaches and access a wealth of wellness content. 

It also seamlessly integrates with our one-on-one health coaching programme. In addition to personal health coaching, employees will participate in wellness activities and education related to preventive and self-care, nutrition, physical activity, resilience, financial wellness, sleep and smoking cessation.

Are you looking to use this deal as a springboard to secure other contracts?
Our first goal with the City of Portland is to develop a great relationship with our client and its employees and ensure employees are engaging with the programme and developing healthy habits and achieving positive health outcomes. We have found that the best way to win new work is to do a great job for our clients. The stories sell themselves – and our happy clients tell their colleagues!

You’re involved in a research project with Harvard School of Public Health? 
Yes, Wellness Workdays is spearheading a multi-million-dollar corporate wellness research study with the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health. The funding for the project is coming from pretty esteemed institutions – Harvard University, MIT and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

The study will evaluate the effectiveness of wellness programmes on employee health, productivity and healthcare costs and has been a great opportunity to contribute to research and advance the efficacy of wellness. 

The study has been underway for approximately two years now and is scheduled to last one more year (until 2021). It is a double-blind study that will measure the effectiveness of a comprehensive approach to employee wellness in an under-served environment – a diverse and dispersed, multilingual workforce earning minimum wage, many of whom do not have access to technology at work.

Preliminary results of the study have found better health outcomes and behaviours, including better weight management and more regular exercise.

In addition, there were a number of other positive improvements, including:

• consumed more fruits and vegetables

• consumed whole grain and reduced fat foods

• lower unmanaged stress

• had fewer smokers

• had less alcohol use

• an increase in the number of recommended screening tests

• more likely to read the nutrition facts label

• used fewer emergency ER visits

• lower medical spending 

• more visits to their doctor

We were pleased that we were able to see some significant behaviour changes in this population group, as well as true changes in the conversation around wellness both at the clubs and with senior management.

How competitive is the US corporate wellness market?
The market is competitive. More companies are offering various wellness programmes for employers.

Some sell off-the shelf programmes or implement technology that employees can use to self-direct their wellbeing. Often there’s one piece of the puzzle offered – but not a strategy to pull the pieces together. 

There’s room for growth in the industry for companies that are creative and forward-thinking, as there are very few organisations that do wellness well.

Do you work with gyms and health clubs? 
We have clients with on-site fitness centres and we work with their staff to make sure they’re trained and know how to implement our programmes. We also partner with corporate fitness centres that need a wider breadth of wellness programmes, including access to personal health assessments (an integrated, online survey to assess health and lifestyle behaviours and provide feedback on current and future health risks), biometric screening and technology to provide infrastructure for their programmes (eg. online tracking, points programmes, health tracker integration, self-directed education and wellness challenges).

You also have a medical advisory board?
They are instrumental in supporting our programmes and providing insight to the latest trends in health and wellness. With the guidance of this board, we employ a scientific approach when developing our programmes. Each aspect is developed from evidence-based conclusions from current research on nutrition, fitness and worksite wellness.

How have you responded to the pandemic?
Now the majority of our clients’ employees are remote, we’ve taken steps to ensure employees are still engaging in our wellness programmes. Employee wellness in the face of COVID-19 is more important than ever. Data confirms that individuals with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes are at greater risk of complications from the coronavirus.

To address the needs of remote workforces, we’ve re-examined each client’s wellness programme communications strategy to determine whether they need to make any changes to reach and engage their employees.

The most effective programmes take into account the current work from home situation that so many employees find themselves in, and incorporate everything from physical and mental health to exercising with kids and healthy eating programmes.

We’ve moved all of our programming online and our technology platform allows us to consistently interact and engage with employees. We’re offering virtual components to our programmes, including workshops, videos and wellness coaching to facilitate fitness and proper nutrition. The virtual programmes provide employees with the opportunity to come together and socialise with one another, helping them feel connected, engaged and more productive. Additional programmes that may be helpful to a remote workforce include offering employees reimbursement for ergonomic home office equipment, hosting virtual workout classes for employees and their families, and offering cooking demos to provide suggestions for quick and healthy meals.

What other initiatives have you been delivering?
We recently launched our “From Surviving to Thriving” programme, which we’re offering to all US employers, whether they’re current clients or not. The initiative is designed to help employers improve employee wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic and focuses on employee engagement, communications and population health management.

It includes easily accessible and frequently updated resources for employers, including checklists and case studies, complimentary webinars led by industry experts, thought leadership articles, and 90-day complimentary access to our wellness portal.

While the technology includes all aspects of wellbeing, employers can choose to target specific campaigns during the 90 days that address their employees’ needs, including resilience and positivity, mindfulness, financial wellness, healthy eating and/or physical activity.

About Debra Wein

After earning BS and MS degrees in nutritional sciences and applied physiology from Cornell and Columbia, Wein became a registered dietitian. She then co-founded Sensible Nutrition to teach individuals and organisations how to improve health through nutrition.

After designing and developing employee wellness programmes, Wein realised she could have a greater impact by focusing on employee populations. She founded Wellness Workdays in 2004 and became a certified Wellness Programme Director and a certified Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) faculty member.

She also developed the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship (WWDI), which trains 95 dietitians a year, who focus on areas of worksite wellness, health promotion and nutrition.

Wein credits her passion for wellness to experiences during her formative years.

"It astounds me that 80% or more of all healthcare spending in the US is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in poor lifestyle choices"

“When I was growing up, several family members suffered from chronic diseases and in past generations the idea of prevention, chronic disease management and the ill effects of smoking were not as well appreciated,” she says. 

“I began to understand that many health problems could be avoided with proper nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices.

“It astounds me that 80 per cent or more of all healthcare spending in the US is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in poor lifestyle choices.

“Chronic diseases and conditions – such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and multiple types of cancer – are among the most common, costly and preventable of all health conditions. I’ve always felt that if individuals had more education and understanding of nutrition and healthy lifestyle principles, we could literally change lives.”

Employee workplace wellness in the face of COVID-19 is more important than ever Credit: LightField Studios / shutterstock
Wellness Workdays’ programme has been found to prompt lower levels of unmanaged stress Credit: wavebreakmedia / shutterstock
The Harvard study found education led to better food choices Credit: Luna Vandoorne / shutterstock
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19-19 Jun 2021

Nutrition Coaching Summit

Zoom, United States
20-21 Jun 2021

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+ More diary  
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2021

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS