Wellness program aims to improve population health through better nutrition

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Since The Jackson Laboratory implemented its successful wellness program, JAXfit, in 2007, it hasn’t had to increase employee healthcare premiums. However, six years later, in 2013, chronic health conditions such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes and asthma still accounted for 60% of medical claims costs.

Therefore, to target a major cause of these and other chronic illnesses, the company partnered with NutriSavings, a nutrition wellness benefit program, to offer a measurable solution that would encourage employees to reduce chronic illness through proper nutrition habits.

“We started with basic wellness programs like biometrics and health coaching, but JAXfit has evolved into much more comprehensive offerings like an onsite gym, NutriSavings and other opportunities for people to take a proactive and preventative approach to their own health,” says Tom Ellis, director of total rewards and HR systems at JAX.

JAX is an independent, nonprofit organization with expertise in genetics and genomic solutions. The company has 1,750 employees located in Maine, Connecticut and California.

Employees register their grocery store loyalty card with NutriSavings, or they are provided with a unique identifier on the website. The program scores food on a scale from 0 to 100, from least healthy to healthiest.

After each supermarket visit, employees’ coded data is uploaded to NutriSavings by the grocery store. Employees get an email with a score from their shopping trip, which is also posted to their account, and they receive recommendations based on food tolerances or intolerances and medical conditions.

More than 75 supermarket chains are on board, with Walmart the most recent addition.

“This is a really compelling way for grocers to show their value and the impact they can have on the overall health delivery system in the U.S,” says Niraj Jetly, COO and CIO of NutriSavings. “It’s also a win-win because it keeps people coming back to their stores.”

NutriSavings currently has a website and a mobile app, but Jetly notes that there are more program innovations under development to enhance the program and boost employee participation.

“The capability currently exists on our website for users to see their whole shopping trip, but we are planning to extend this capability to the mobile app,” he says.

“In addition, listings of farmer’s markets on the website will be expanded from Maine and Massachusetts to five other states,” he continues. “And we will add CSA [community supported agriculture] information that will help employees to purchase seasonal memberships for weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of fresh produce in their area.”

While JAX is not there yet, Jetly says NutriSavings also can be easily integrated into a holistic wellness portal with a single sign-on.

“When NutriSavings is plugged into an overall wellness portal, total participation in other wellness programs goes up because we engage participants every week when they go shopping,” he explains.


Both NutriSavings and JAX provide incentives for employees to sign up and continue participating.

“Participants get electronic ‘coupons’ for healthy products where the manufacturer is giving $1 off or $2 off or 20% cash back on the purchase,” NutriSavings CEO Gerard Bridi explains. “Once they activate the coupons on our site, and we see they bought the product, the cash is deposited in a wellness incentive credit account with JAX’s third-party administrator.”

The JAX health plan has a $500 deductible for single employees and $800 for families.

“Our passport program allows employees to completely eliminate their deductibles for participating in various wellness programs,” Ellis says. “They get $120 toward reducing their deductible just for signing up with NutriSavings.”

Other activities promoting continuing program engagement include sharing success stories and ongoing competitions.

“For example, employees who sign up for NutriSavings and other wellness activities get a stamp on their passport and are eligible for raffles for cash prizes of $1,000 [for first place] and $250 [for second and third place] each quarter,” he adds.

Measuring success

Within the first week of the launch, 25% of JAX’s employees in Bar Harbor, Maine, signed up. And, when the program was offered company-wide 10 months later, 41% of employees were participating, 6,500 shopping trips were logged and there was a 21% increase in reported shopping trips per employee.

By analyzing the shopping trip data from employees over the course of 10 months and using the aggregate updated biometric data statistics of program participants, NutriSavings calculated changes in purchasing patterns and observed positive health outcomes among JAX’s population.

These included:

· 23% of shopping trips consisted of produce, up from 8%;
· 89% used NutriSavings’ healthy food discounts;
· 18% drop in dietary sodium over 10 months;
· 11% increase in dietary fiber over the same period;
· 21% decrease in the hypertensive population, based on biometric data;
· 10% increase in the population with normal blood pressure; and
· Reduction of pre-diabetes employees by 7%.

Ellis says companies considering a new wellness program should do their own due diligence, but the capability of vendors to deliver a communications program that will drive participation is critical.

“NutriSavings has been super, super active working with our in-house communications staff to ensure we craft the right messages to engage employees and ensure we met our targets,” Ellis says.

Jetly also notes that the positive results of the JAX-NutriSavings alliance are not unique. Companies like Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Blue Shield of Northeastern New York have implemented the program for both their employees and their clients and documented positive outcomes.

For example, in spring 2013, Harvard Pilgrim partnered with NutriSavings to pilot their EatRight Rewards program internally. The key success metrics of the program revolved around enrollment, education and motivation.

“The Harvard Pilgrim pilot was an unqualified success. Forty-two percent of company employees participated, which is four times the established success metric of 10%,” Jetly says. “Participation steadily increased and grocery trips including the purchase of fruits and vegetables increased nearly 60% over the course of the period studied.”

Ellis only joined JAX a few months ago, but the impact NutriSavings continues to have on the health of the company’s workforce doesn’t surprise him.

“I always say, ‘If you don’t eat well, it doesn’t matter how much you exercise,’” he says. “You won’t get the health benefits you are aiming for.”

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