What are some of the common factors – all much welcomed signs of improved workplace wellness – that are common to America’s healthiest companies? A marked reduction in smoking, plus measurable reductions in glucose and blood pressure levels emerge as the most consistent hallmarks of a truly healthy workplace.

And as Interactive Health compiles its list of the yearly Healthiest Companies in America award, the health management solutions provider says that employers who use incentive programs to build personal responsibility in their own health, as well as focus on the importance of early detection and identification of the risk factors common in preventable disease, are all capable of reaching those targets and building a much healthier workforce.

Joe A. O’Brien, president and CEO of Interactive Health, says that the 68 companies honored in his company’s list – a list that the firm has been assembling for the past eight years – have all made a point of taking wellness from an admirable sounding concept to a real program with tangible results, and creating wide acceptance at each workplace.

All of the companies honored achieved a very low health risk status – based on company-wide biometric testing – as well as sustaining strong employee participation in their programs. The low health risk factors meant getting a clean bill of health on indicators including blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and tobacco usage.

“A good example is a manufacturing company like Cummins-Allison Corporation, with a workforce that’s heavily male, over 40 … and paying a lot for health care, as a result,” O’Brien says. “They figured out a way to get their employees’ spouses involved in the wellness program and added a $1,000 incentive. Suddenly, what once was formerly 28% of their population smoking dropped to 11%, and that absolutely knocked me off my feet.”

See also: Getting beyond wellness mythology

And considering that some of the client populations Interactive Health has worked with had virtually no connection with regular health care – 63% of workers at one firm hadn’t seen a doctor in the last five years – many companies have faced an uphill battle.

“Back in the early days, we would see the same clients every year, who would ask, ‘why didn’t our employees listen to us?’ It always seemed like the further they got away from their initial health evaluation, the less the employees did,” he notes. “We came up with a model, the individual health score, as a tangible goal for employees and their employers to hit next year, and that absolutely got people’s attention.”

Using data-driven wellness programs has definitely created tangible results for the companies on Interactive Health’s list; as a consistent factor among this year’s winners, their focus on wellness programs meant that almost a quarter of tobacco users quit their habit, 66% of those with elevated glucose levels reduced those numbers and 87% of participants with elevated blood pressure levels saw their blood pressure drop.

O’Brien says that personal responsibility is the key, with a mixture of coaching, a variety of incentives and the hard and fast numbers of the health scores to keep everyone honest. “How do you stop that cycle from repeating itself?” he says, referring to employees’ tendencies to return to their unhealthy behaviors, without some gentle nudging. He says that some companies have also been particularly inventive, establishing arrangements with outside vendors to sponsor getting health food into their workers’ diets.

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