A new survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company indicates that many American workers and their families — even those who know what it takes to get and stay healthy — have inaccurate perceptions about their own weight, condition and the cost of their health care. The survey results, released this month by Aon Hewitt, further indicate satisfaction and claims of positive behavior changes associated with participation in consumer-driven health plans.

More than 2,800 employees and their dependents covered by employer-sponsored health plans were surveyed about their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors toward health and wellness. Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported being in good health, yet more than half of those (53%) gave height and weight combinations that categorize them as having a body mass index in the overweight or obese categories. Only 23% of all respondents believe they are actually overweight or obese, when in reality that number is 34%.

“Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action,” says Joann Hall Swenson, Aon Hewitt’s health engagement leader. “For others, the activities and stresses of daily life take priority over good health, and many consumers are unwilling to make sacrifices to improve their health.”

She says employers need to offer workers and their families “the necessary tools and resources that give them a realistic picture of their health,” then follow up by encouraging healthy decisionmaking.

Consumers’ incorrect perceptions extend to cost, the survey finds. Total health care costs per employee were $10,522 last year, according to an analysis, of which employers paid $8,318. When asked, however, how much of their bill their employer pays, the average respondent guessed around half that amount.

“These survey results,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, “underscore the challenges employers face as they seek to engage employees and their families in health improvement as a means to better managing rising health care costs. It is critical for employers to bridge the knowledge gap evident in this survey.”

It seems one way to do that is by offering a consumer-driven health plan, the survey reveals, as 60% of those in a CDHP say they have made positive behavior changes in regards to their health, including more preventive care (28%), seeking lower-cost options (23%) and more frequent research of health costs (19%). In addition, 63% of respondents say they would complete a health risk questionnaire for a monetary reward, and just under that would engage in a healthy eating or weight management program.

“Consumers are looking for solutions that address their specific health needs and concerns,” says Christine Baskin, senior vice president at the Futures Company. “Tailored, targeted feedback such as that given in the HRQ process, along with understanding individual consumer's attitudes towards health, are essential ingredients to having employees take actions to improve their health and their lifestyle.”

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