Health promotion is coming of age and looking to the future

StayWell Blog

By StayWell Chief Health Officer David Anderson, Ph.D.

Fittingly, the 25th Annual Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference focused on what’s next for the field, asking what new approaches will produce the best outcomes. The three broad themes that emerged – well-being, culture, and technology – included truly new but also promising rediscoveries of concepts whose time has come.

Almost seven decades ago in 1948 the World Health Organization defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Until now, however, worksite health promotion has focused mostly on physical health with just a token nod to the mental and social dimensions. No more! Burgeoning evidence including recent advances in brain science reveals the interplay and interdependencies of these dimensions. While improvements in physical health alone may go some way in controlling health care costs, several sessions provided evidence that an engaged, high-performing workforce requires a holistic approach encompassing the physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions of well-being.

Dan Buettner’s discovery of “Blue Zones” of health in the world vividly demonstrated the power of culture in driving population well-being. His new work is showing that the essential characteristics of these Blue Zones can be used to create cultures of health at the community level that drive dramatic improvements in key health indicators. There was also much discussion about the potential of employer-community collaboration to scale the Blue Zone model nationally.

Most proven best practices in health promotion are high-touch, low-tech and costly, while many recent technology entrants fail the best-practice test. According to several speakers, that need to connect technology and best practices is beginning to occur. Innovators are discovering ways to use technology to supercharge best practices like supportive culture, population awareness, motivating change, health coaching, and social support. An example is the Million Step Challenge that combines clever marketing, gamification, social networking, and wearable device technology to deliver year-round physical activity at the population level.

The good news is that well-being, culture, and technology aren’t just trendy – they’re trending. Well-conceived and executed, we believe these growing trends will help drive population health, employee engagement, and organizational performance to new levels.