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Healthways Inc. (HWAY) appears to be getting a lot of brand building attention for its sponsorship of the new Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index following the announcement of initial results of the survey Tuesday. The survey results are getting a lot of press attention (search the web for Healthways, news), and they undoubtedly will help both Gallup and Healthways sell their services. I recently blogged about the index here and about HWAY here.

Healthways provides disease management services to employers, health insurers and Medicare, and Gallup conducts health status and employment satisfaction studies for employers and other organizations. Time will tell how long it will take for Healthways to leverage its data into new business and its increased visibility into a higher stock price, but it's clear the company has a wealth of new information that its sales people will be showing customers and prospects.

Down the road, insurers might use the survey data to assess the medical risks presented by large groups, or employers may use the data to win lower premiums from health and life insurers. The data also could be used by a contractor to prove to a customer or prospect that its workers are relatively happy and healthy. A hedge fund or other large institutional investor could commission studies of companies to identify those with the most productive work forces. Employers and insurers would have to be careful about how they used the data. They wouldn't want to be accused of discriminating against older or unhealthy workers.

Some 49% of Americans say they are thriving, 47% say they are "struggling" and 4% say they are "suffering," according to the initial Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index.

“It’s pretty clear from the data provided through the Well-Being Index that Americans are indeed stuck in a cycle of chronic disease. We see that the majority [51%] of America is currently struggling or suffering and that they often make poor lifestyle choices. Many are stressed, worried and overweight, all factors which lead to illness and, ultimately, lifelong health conditions,” said Healthways president and CEO Ben Leedle.

"The 4% defined as "suffering" generally lacked food or shelter, and also had no hope of improvement in the future," Reuters reported. Like all other respondents, they were reached by phone.

Healthways provides disease management services to Medicare and employers, and it focused on the health status of full-time workers surveyed by phone by Gallup so far this year.

It found:

  • Nearly two-thirds are obese or overweight (25% obese, 40% overweight)
  • Two-thirds report one or more chronic diseases or recurring conditions
  • More than 20% report they are not able to perform their usual activities on one or more days last month due to illness. These workers reported being out sick an average of six days in the last 30
  • Workers with one to three diseases and/or conditions report they cannot carry out their usual activities on 13.5 days each year. The impact of a negative work environment is an additional 6.6 days (48% higher) annually. Workers with four or more disease conditions report they cannot carry out their usual activities on 52.7 days each year. For these workers, the presence of a negative work environment increases that total to 68.9 days (a 31% increase)

The study found that of 45,686 full-time workers between the ages of 18 and 64, 45% are between 18 and 44 and 55% between 45 and 64. Only 1% consider themselves underweight while 33% are normal, 41% overweight and 25% are obese. Disease conditions ranged from 1.6i% who had suffered heart attacks to 26.4% who have neck or back conditions. Other disease conditions and their occurrences (rounded numbers) were high cholesterol, 23.4%; high blood pressure, 22.2%; other health problems, 20.8%, knee or leg conditions, 19.1%; other recurring pain, 13%; depression, 11.1%; asthma, 8.9% and diabetes, 6.2%. And 32% reported no disease conditions, 55%, 1 to 3 conditions; and 14%, or more than 6,000 workers, four or more conditions. Four or more disease conditions is considered an extreme disease burden. Asthma and diabetes sufferers are more subject to headaches and colds.

The findings reported by Gallup-Healthways focused on health status and whether survey respondents believe they enjoy positive work environments or negative ones.

For workers, elements of a negative work environment include:

  • Dissatisfaction with job
  • Authoritative rather than collaborative leadership
  • Lack of trust and openness at work
  • Lack of focus on individual strengths

Healthways told a press conference, according to Reuters, "Having any one of these four negative factors present is a drain on well-being." And 54% of smokers with a disease burden said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day; 38% of non-smokers with similar health problems reported a lot of stress. Workers with one to three disease conditions and working in negative work environments had an average of 1.68 sick days per month, compared with those with four or more work conditions who had 5.74 sick days. Those with no negative issues and one to three conditions had an average of 1.13 sick days versus those with four or more conditions who had an average of 4.39 sick days. The total population impact due to a negative work environment costs $14 billion a year in directed wage cost and 12.3 million sick days per month, or 147 million a year. The total population impact due to negative work environments and disease burdents cost $56.5 billion a year in direct wage cost and 49.4 million days per month, or 593 million days per year.

The 70-question survey found that workers with one to three disease conditions and a negative work environment:

  • Average 0.55 more sick days per month than other workers with with one to three disease conditions. That's equivalent to 6.6 more sick days per year.
  • Average 1.21 more sick days per month than other workers without disease conditions. That's equivalent to 14.5 more sick days per year.

Individuals with four or more disease conditions and a negative work environment average 16.2 more sick days a year than workers who are not in negative environments. And they average 63.24 more days per year than workers without disease conditions. Business owners accounted for 3% of the working population surveyed; managers, executives and officials, 17%; construction or mining, 18%; professionals, 19%; sales,. 20%; service, 24%; clerical or office, 25%; transportation, 29% and manufacturing or production, 29%.

Between January 2 and April 15, 2008, 103,466 respondents were surveyed by phone. The maximum 95% margin of sampling error is plus or minus 0.3 percentage points. Sampling includes cell phone users and Spanish speaking respondents in all 50 states. Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nation wide daily during 2008 under a 25-year deal with Healthways.

Stories about the Well Being Index were published by:

Reuters:

The 4 percent defined as "suffering" generally lacked food or shelter, and also had no hope of improvement in the future. Gallup's James Harter said this compares to Denmark, where 83 percent of people appear to be thriving and fewer than 1 percent struggling. In Cambodia, the situation is the opposite, with only 2 percent thriving, according to other surveys. "Part of what this will allow us to do is diagnose at a local level where intervention should occur," Harter said.

WebMD:

The survey asks people familiar questions about their age, employment status, and overall health. But researchers say they wanted to find out how disease status, workplace satisfaction, access to insurance, and other factors affect people's sense of well-being. So survey participants weren't just asked how many diseases they have. They also answered questions such as "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday," "Did you feel very stressed yesterday," and "How many hours did you spend with family or friends?" 'Compounding Effect' Researchers weren't surprised to find that obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma had a negative impact on well-being. But they also found that other, negative parts of life have a compounding affect that makes those problems worse. "The impact on well-being is really very striking," says Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University professor of psychology and public affairs who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics.

Associated Press:

Pollsters asked people to imagine where they would put themselves on a ladder with 10 steps. Those said they were on step seven or above are listed as thriving. Those at four or below are suffering. In between are the strugglers. Those who are thriving tend to have higher incomes, more education and less illness. Those who are suffering have trouble meeting their basic needs, including food, shelter and medical care, said James Harter, Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management and well-being. Just as the U.S is not No. 1 when it comes to health measures, it also is not No. 1 in well-being, he said. For example, 83 percent of the residents of Denmark are classified as thriving versus 1 percent who are suffering. Researchers hope the findings, which can be broken down by occupation, commute time and exercise habits, will help employers better understand what they can do to create happier and healthier workers.

Full disclosure: I don't own HWAY.

Source: Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index Survey Results