You are what you eat, and new firm aims to fix that

Northeast Delta Dental is the first New Hampshire company to take part in a new nutrition-based wellness program claiming to improve health as well as – or even better than – prescription medications.The Full Yield, developed by nurse midwife and health advocate Zoe Finch Totten and other health-care leaders, aims to reduce the risk for diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer through the use of whole foods, fresh produce and 100 percent whole grains while building a culture of wellness at the work site and in the community.In November, Concord-based Northeast Delta Dental began offering the program to its employees. Londonderry yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms is also expected to join in early 2011. (Stonyfield Farms chief executive and health advocate Gary Hirshberg chairs The Full Yield board.)”The Full Yield Program produces results that are not only statistically significant, but also clinically relevant,” said Dr. David Fairchild, chief medical officer of Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts. “The improvement in blood pressure associated with program participation is comparable to the impact of taking a blood pressure medication, yet has all of the other health benefits associated with weight reduction. These early results represent a promising strategy for combating hypertension, diabetes and other associated conditions.”The Full Yield is much more than a simple weight-loss program, said Finch Totten.”The fundamental difference with this program is that we seek to become a strategic and operational partner. We bring together all the forces that surround food – employers, health plans, food manufacturers, food retailers – to help employees create a new lifestyle,” she said. “A person is never just an employee or just a patient, but is always an eater.”That’s exactly what attracted Northeast Delta Dental to the program, said Tom Raffio, company chief executive, and Connie Roy-Czyzowski, vice president of human resources.”We’re known as being a company that’s into wellness, and the Full Yield’s concept of ‘you are what you eat’ was a natural fit for us,” said Raffio.Roy-Czyzowksi said the dental insurer had sponsored a Weight Watchers program in the past with good results, “but you needed a critical mass” of employees participating to offer it at the company’s site.By the first week of December, 35 employees were participating, said Roy-Czyzowski.Productivity benefitsFinch Totten said people aren’t really making the connection that what you eat has an impact on how you feel.”The biggest driver of poor health is poor food quality,” she said. “Yes, people know intellectually that an apple is healthier for you than fast food, but they really don’t know that, long term, eating well can make you feel so much better.”To that end, The Full Yield de-emphasizes the concept of calories for calories’ sake, and instead delves into what consumers are getting for the calories they consume – “health supporting” food vs. “health depleting” food, as Finch Totten calls them.The Full Yield focuses on eight areas to help employees move toward wellness: a diet makeover, or “food prescription,” along with physical exercise; confidential health surveys; biometric monitoring, such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure; support from health coaches; Web-based educational tools; and social networking to provide team-based cultural change.The program also offers prepackaged, private-label meals available through Roche Brothers grocery stores in Massachusetts. They are unavailable in New Hampshire at this time.According to Finch Totten, unlike other diet plans, only a handful of meals are offered, and they’re offered simply to provide a transition to eating whole, fresh foods, not to drive company revenue.Results, according to a study by health plan partner Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, have been dramatic. After just three months, 86 percent of those with elevated cholesterol levels showed improvement, 73 percent reduced their body-mass index, 85 percent saw a reduction in their blood pressure and 59 percent lowered their percentage of body fat.”Companies can see an increase in their productivity pretty quickly,” said Finch Totten. “Long term, results can drive down the cost of health insurance premiums.”Such results prompted insurance giant John Hancock Company in Boston to take a closer look.”We offered it to our employees based on three reasons. It was holistic, it was grounded in research and it was focused on sustainable behavior change supported by biometrics,” said Peter Mongeau, vice president of human resources and shared services.After some 300 employees took part in the program for six months, he said employee reaction was very positive.”They get excited to learn new things,” said Mongeau. “The employees who are participating are evolving into a community.”But more than camaraderie, Mongeau said his company is beginning to see real evidence that the program – along with a portfolio of other health and wellness measures the insurer rolled out – is making an impact.”To date, we’re seeing positive results based on the first quarter,” he said. “We’re crunching the numbers now, but early indicators are that the programming is having the intended effect.””The Full Yield helps to give permission back to people to improve what they eat, which will then, in turn, improve their lives,” added Finch Totten.Time framesCurrently, The Full Yield has about 1,300 members in Massachusetts; the membership in New Hampshire isn’t available yet due to the launch being so new.In February, The Full Yield will be eliminating the 12-month plan and moving to a three-month plan. (Northeast Delta Dental will be the last company to belong to the yearlong plan.)”Analysis has shown that three months has been clinically and statistically significant,” said Finch Totten. “We’re going to offer the compressed program knowing it is effective and a better price point for companies.”So far, both John Hancock and Northeast Delta Dental are running pilot programs – their health insurer Harvard Pilgrim is picking up a portion of the per-member cost with the company picking up some or all of the remainder, substantially lowering the cost to the employee.Unlike Northeast Delta Dental, which employs 185 workers, and John Hancock, which has 4,000 workers in Boston alone, it may seem that offering a richly featured and comparatively costly wellness plan might seem out of reach for a smaller firm.Not so, said Finch Totten.While the current full-year program runs about $750 per member, she said the three-month program will be about half that.Danvers, Mass.-based The Full Yield is a private for-profit corporation. Finch Totten said that being a for-profit company allows it to raise more revenue and have more access to capital, meaning it can further its mission more than it could as a nonprofit.Cindy Kibbe can be reached