2015 Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference Roundup

This year’s Art & Science of Health Promotion conference was overwhelmingly positive. It was great to see old friends, meet new ones, and discuss this year’s theme: The Future of Health Promotion.

The Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego was jam packed with informative sessions presented by some of the greatest thought leaders in Health Promotion. One of the most difficult things about the conference is deciding which sessions to attend as there are so many good options. I’m going to focus on three key takeaways that I would like to share.

Wake Up: Sleep is a Big Issue!

One third of America’s workforce suffers from a lack of sleep. The CDC has declared insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic. The total cost due to reduced productivity, errors on the job, and injury is estimated at $2280 per employee (source: Harvard Medical School, Insomnia Study, 2011). For some reason sleep has been largely ignored in workplace wellness. This year, however, many presenters pointed to sleep as a necessary area to focus on. This has not been an area of demand in the past and as a result many providers do not focus on sleep enhancement. This is likely to change as more and more programs begin to recognize the importance of a good night’s rest for their population.

Let’s end the debate over incentives.

If you’re like me, you’ve started to feel like the debate over whether or not incentives are a good strategy has become a political issue. This issue has become so heated that it feels like you’re either in the incentive camp or the non incentive camp in the same way you’re either liberal or conservative. The reality is that sometimes incentives work and sometimes they don’t. I’ve seen some companies use them successfully and other companies not so successfully. Research supports the use of incentives for simple short term tasks like filling out a health assessment. But research does not show that incentives are effective in producing long-term behavior change. Let’s for a minute (hopefully much longer) take the focus off of whether or not incentives work and put that effort towards building stronger wellness programs.

The future is behind us?

This year’s theme asked the leaders in our field: what’s next for Health Promotion? Dr. David Katz addressed that very question in the opening keynote. While profound, his answer was nothing new at all.  He pointed to a 1993 edition of the journal of the American Medical Association where Will Foege and Mike McGinnis, two leading epidemiologists, reported that the long held notion that chronic diseases were the leading causes of premature death wasn’t indeed accurate. That those diseases aren’t causes rather they are effects. They are the effects of lifestyle factors of which we are very much in control. They and others have found that four factors (smoking, diet, exercise, weight control) can result in an 80% reduction in the lifetime risk of all major chronic diseases. Dr. Katz jokingly remarked “What if I told you there was a pill that could reduce your risk of all chronic disease by 80%? Who would you call first, your doctor or your stockbroker to invest in the company?”

It’s true though. We see the same lifestyle factors come up in nearly every population we treat. We know what we need to do. Let’s stop arguing about which fad diet is best or which incentives are best and let’s use the great knowledge and programs we have developed to start helping 100% of people live happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives.