Seven years of BeWell@Stanford

Are you living a healthier lifestyle than you did six years ago? If you’ve been working at Stanford, it may be because so many people around you have been improving their lifestyle as well. We spoke with BeWell co-founder, Wes Alles, PhD, about BeWell program growth over the years and the resulting lowered shared medical costs for participants and the university.

What changes have you seen since the beginning of the BeWell program in 2008?

Each year, we have seen growth in the number of participants; and each year, based on SHALA and the biometrics screening, we have observed improvements among participants. Those participating the longest have shown the greatest improvement in lifestyle and biometric results.  

Our participation rates within BeWell have been excellent. In the first year of the program, 6,667 faculty/staff completed the SHALA; and today, the number who have completed the SHALA is 9,970 (include spouses). Those participating in BeWell Berry activities have gone from 5,000 Berries earned to nearly 22,000 Berries earned in 2013.

How are we doing compared with the rest of the country?

Gallup and Healthways produce a document, State of American Well-Being, which includes The Well-Being Index. This index assessed six areas of health: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior, and basic access. Among large communities in the United States, two Bay Area communities rank first (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara) and second (San Francisco, Oakland, and Fremont), respectively.

Obviously, many Stanford faculty and staff live within these top-ranked areas of the nation, which suggests that our employees enjoy good health. Additionally, when we look at aggregate data from the SHALA, biometric screening and lifestyle-related health care costs, and compare the results with a matched sample from the Bay area (the healthiest large population area in the nation), our faculty and staff are even healthier on measures that predict lifestyle-based chronic disease. 

Does this translate into lower shared medical cost for the participant and the university?

Since 2008, there have been statistically significant changes in lifestyle that have produced clinically significant changes in biometrics (such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol). The combination of lifestyle and biometrics is a good predictor of medical expenses related to chronic disease. Looking at 2012 data, BeWell participation (relative to non-participation) is associated with reductions of: 18% in overall health care costs, 36% in lifestyle-related costs, and 53% in specific lifestyle-related costs. Clearly, a healthy lifestyle produces healthy biometrics, and a healthy biometrics profile predicts fewer chronic diseases and lower medical costs. Our culture of wellness has definitely made an impact in terms of risk and consequent costs. 

Going forward, what areas would you like to improve?

We would like to better understand why there are non-participants — even though employees have work release time, financial incentives, a broad choice of wellness opportunities and strong word-of-mouth endorsement of the program from their colleagues.

We’d also like to better understand why there are a greater number of female participants than male participants.

… any closing thoughts? 

We have faith that the BeWell program will continue to be successful and achieve even better results in the future. People who have participated in the program have become champions in their families, communities and workplace. 

Currently, about two-thirds of the faculty and staff participate in BeWell. Our mission is health improvement and our hope is that every member of the Stanford community will adopt health as a core personal value. If you haven't participated, please talk with some of your friends and colleagues about their experiences and check us out on the BeWell website.

Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Dorothy Lane Ryan.