Wellness is Working

In a commentary published in the March 5, 2012, Minnesota Daily, Eric Best writes correctly that the University of Minnesota’s new Wellness Points Bank initiative “places responsibility on individual staff and faculty to improve their own health.” However, the columnist further asserts the new program fails to treat everyone fairly. We disagree.

Between now and Aug. 31, UPlan members University-wide and their UPlan-covered spouses or same-sex domestic partners have an equal opportunity to earn 300 or 400 wellness points, and they can do so without spending any of their own money. The points qualify the employee to receive a $300 or $400 reduction in his or her UPlan Medical Program premiums in 2013.

The points-earning possibilities offered through the initiative include a wide variety of tools and resources to help a person make better lifestyle choices and maintain or improve one’s overall wellness regardless of where he or she is on the continuum of health. The Wellness Points Bank includes a portfolio of 13 separate wellness activities. There is everything in the Wellness Points Bank from a 20-minute wellness assessment, to a chance to undergo a biometric health screening at no additional cost, to a 100-percent reimbursement of registration fees for weight management sessions.

When a UPlan member takes the wellness assessment no later than March 31, he or she can receive 100 wellness points for his or her Wellness Points Bank and receive a $65 wellness reward. The online questionnaire can be completed during scheduled work hours and is also available in a printed format for UPlan members who do not have ready access to a computer at work.

As mentioned previously, UPlan members don’t have to pay to participate in the Wellness Program to earn 300 or 400 points. For example, on April 1, the Wellness Program will introduce a program entitled Step It Up! in which a participant receives a free pedometer to track his or her steps. A conversion calculator within the program allows the user to track and be rewarded for all types of physical activity whether it be swimming, bicycling or an aerobic workout.

Since the inception of the Wellness Program, the offerings have been designed to appeal to our diverse University population regardless of age or physical ability. The goal of the program is to get each one of us to take one small, incremental step toward better health. In other words, our thinking is that broad-based participation across the entire University will do the greatest good — for the individual and for the University.

The Wellness Program is having a positive impact on people’s lives.  An analysis of 13 common health-risk factors (such as smoking, weight, stress, exercise and nutrition) shows that  the health risks of UPlan members have gone down an average of 11.6 percent during each person’s participation in the program. In addition, a return-on-investment study conducted by researchers from the University’s School of Public Health shows the program is paying for itself. According to the three-year study, the UPlan Medical Program has seen a reduction in health care and absenteeism costs of $1.09 for every $1 invested in the program.

In his commentary, the columnist raises the issue of personal responsibility for our food choices and weight control. We live in an era when two out of three Minnesotans are obese or overweight, and snacking on calorie-loaded, non-nutritious food has become an all-day affair. If UPlan members haven’t already done so in 2012, we invite them to complete the wellness assessment, which allows them to take a good look at their own health habits and willingness to change behaviors.

Why? Because a person’s health matters. It matters to the individual, to his or her family and friends and to the University, too. Small steps taken right now can pay dividends for a lifetime.