Every day for more than a year, residents of Bell County (pop: 28,750) in southeastern Kentucky have been taking steps – literally – to improve their health and wellness. They’ve strolled in two new fitness parks, vigorously exercised outdoors, taken walks together, used the community swimming pool more often and grown an organic garden. They’re participating in one company’s unique corporate social responsibility initiative – and they’re helping make a tangible difference.
Humana, a leading health and well-being company, along with partner Microclinic International, a public health and development nonprofit, is spearheading and funding this first-of-its-kind approach called Team Up 4 Health. The goal is to curb preventable chronic diseases through behavior changes that are encouraged and supported by friends and family. The program seeks to determine if, by working together, people (in this case, an entire county) can eat better, get more exercise and encourage each other to make healthier choices.
In its first year, 265 residents participated; and in this second year, nearly double that number are striving to reduce their body mass index, lose weight and keep it off, decrease symptoms of diabetes, and reduce their blood pressure. “I’ve learned that it’s about making small healthy choices every day,” says Team Up 4 Health participant Willene Black.
At the heart of it, Humana and our partners at Microclinic International and the Bell County Health Department believe that leveraging human relationships can unleash “contagious health” and make inroads against avoidable strokes, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Initial findings are encouraging. Virtually all (97 percent) of first-year participants posted improvements in at least one of the four key health measures, and 90 percent improved in at least two areas. As a group, they’ve shrunk their body mass index, lost an average of six-and-a-half pounds each, reduced symptoms of diabetes and lowered their blood pressure.
They’re making healthy behavior choices a part of their everyday life, such as buying whole wheat vs. white flour products. And 84 percent say they’ve improved their confidence in some manner. “I’ve seen hundreds of lives change in positive ways,” says Leigh Ann Baker, Program Manager at the Bell County Health Department, who implements Team Up 4 Health.
What’s most encouraging is the feedback from participants. “I’ve been able to take this to my family and friends, and when they see changes, they become more motivated as well,” says Ms. Black. “This program woke me up to a lot of stuff.”
“When I’m eating well, I feel healthier. And when I feel healthier, I feel better about myself,” says another.
The enthusiasm becomes infectious. “We’re going to be the spark and we’re going to set the nation on fire,” asserts Jessica Mills.
Humana is paying close attention to the Team Up 4 Health program to better understand how social networks help spread healthy behaviors that can ultimately improve health outcomes and reduce the burden of disease. And while the positive power of peer influence is well-documented, Humana is looking to learn whether that influence can be harnessed to positively impact people’s health.
The pilot was inspired by Humana’s vision to help people achieve lifelong well-being and is part of the company’s broader commitment to corporate social responsibility. Whatever the conclusions of the pilot, Humana is committed to making positive impacts on society. “We understand the value of trying a new approach to preventing disease, not just treating it once it strikes,” explains Humana Chairman Mike McCallister.
Alan Player is a communications consultant at Humana Inc. and the Humana Lead of the Team Up 4 Health initiative.
Humana’s Team Up 4 Health video was a top 10 video finalist in the 5th Annual Boston College Film Festival.