Conduct an Internet search on the word “fit” and Google will return images of athletes, marathon runners, mountain climbers, body builders and weekend warriors. Likewise, a search for mobile apps related to fit or fitness returns images of trackers, pedometers, online trainers, apps for tobacco cessation, meditation and more.

The world has decided what fit looks like and how it can be tracked and monitored, but is outward fitness an accurate picture of health? As an employer, you can only view an employee from the outside; there is an entirely different view that is equally as important, and to the possible detriment of the employee, this true picture is often hidden.

[Image: Bloomberg]
[Image: Bloomberg]

Those apps I spoke of focus on one aspect of the employee’s total health — physical fitness. To be clear, these apps are great tools that complement the wellness activity part of your program. However, what fitness apps don’t address is the disease management aspect that target metric-bearing activities. These include annual medical check-ups and in-depth health screenings. Wellness and metric-bearing activities are opposite sides of the same coin. One is as important as the other, as illustrated a few years ago by the Rand Corporation’s study on PepsiCo’s wellness and disease management program. Here’s an excerpt:

“PepsiCo realized a return on investment (ROI) of $3.78 for every $1 that they spent on their wellness program; however, only $0.50 of that $3.78 was attributable to the wellness part of their program, while the remaining $3.28 was directly attributable to their disease management programs.”

PepsiCo’s disease management efforts would not have been as impactful if the company hadn’t engaged their employees on two fronts: wellness activities and metric-bearing activities. Each aspect of their program worked in tandem to form a more complete picture of their employees’ health.

See also: Why wellness needs to be personal

Employers are looking for creative ways to manage health and welfare benefit cost, which often translates into the second or third line item on a corporate budget. After counseling hundreds of employers on wellness and disease management programs, I submit that the goal of an initiative should not focus primarily on activities that promote being fit, but rather on creating a culture that focuses on FIT: health issues that are Found in Time. FIT relates to diseases and conditions that are discovered before they spiral out of control.

Therefore, the goal of a wellness program shouldn’t be to make employees better athletes, but to make them healthier. In other words, the focus needs to be on ensuring that chronic conditions, those silent killers that steal health and escalate costs for the employer and employee, are “found in time” before they become major medical events.

It would be great if you could tell who in your organization is healthy just by looking at them. But we all know you can’t do that. If would be like assuming that a 6-foot-7-inch person is a great basketball player. Likewise, there’s more to a healthy employee than what you see on the outside. If it were that easy, stratifying the health risks of your entire organization could be done at a glance.

Back to the Google search on “fit.”

Fitness companies and clothing stores showcase their products using über-physically fit models. Their marketing messages convey an ideal that isn’t always achievable: “Impossible is Nothing,” “Forever Faster,” or the very simplistic, “Just Do It” and “I Will.” It’s no wonder that when the average Jane or Joe encounters the world’s perceived idea of fit, their initial reaction is “I wish that could be me.” However, it quickly becomes, “There’s just no way I can to that.”

Fit is often viewed as a physical state that’s attainable by a few people, but not necessarily ordinary people. This is how much of America sees fit. This is how your employees might see fit, too.

It’s no wonder that people look askance at wellness and disease management programs; maybe they’re assuming the focus is on being fit. They might not even know that they suffer from a condition that could be better managed if found in time.

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