With the beginning of the new year and our collective promises to make what we perceive to be needed changes, I read two very interesting articles in the New York Times over the weekend.

  • The first (excerpted below) dealt with economic forecasts for the coming year and offered several perspectives on what the authors believe needs to happen to “turn things around.” I am not advocating any of their positions (I try to stay away from politics in this venue), but a line from professors at the University of Chicago struck me.

“Help people achieve their goals simply by making the necessary steps easier.”

When I read that, I thought, “that’s what we do.”  Our primary goal at OSPT is to not only help people achieve what they want in life by identifying the necessary steps to get there, but rather to do so by making the obstacles to those goals less imposing. I believe we can achieve what we want in life, sometimes we just need a little help to get there.

  • The second article was quite lengthy and admittedly took some patience to get through, but the payoff was worth it.  In the article, “The Fat Trap,” the author discusses the trials and tribulations so many of us encounter when trying to lose weight.  The article provides a lot of information, but two thoughts,
    • The difficulty of losing weight cannot mean stop trying. That only leads to more weight gain and increased health risks. And,
    • “Given how hard it is to lose weight, it’s clear, from a public-health standpoint, that resources would best be focused on preventing weight gain.”

What goals have you set for 2012?

The Answer Starts With a Salad Bar

RICHARD H. THALER A professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

IN case you’ve forgotten, we have a crisis in health care spending. But employers can help us deal with it — and save themselves some money — with a few nudges.

The thesis of “Nudge,” which Cass R. Sunstein and I wrote in 2008, is that “choice architects” can often help people achieve their goals simply by making the necessary steps easier. As choice architects, employers can do a lot to improve their workers’ health. That, in turn, can lead to more productive workers who have fewer sick days and cost less to insure.

Where to start? First, make it easier to eat well while at work. That doesn’t mean limiting the cafeteria menu to tofu and cauliflower. It means offering various healthful, tasty options that are featured prominently. Put an attractive salad bar including some healthy proteins before the burger line, for instance, and subsidize the healthy food.

Second, make it easier to get some exercise during the workday. Walking just 30 minutes a day provides noticeable health benefits. Some ambitious companies have installed treadmills with workstations, but there are lower-cost solutions. Even a small to midsize business can probably arrange a discount at a health club.

You don’t have to leave work to get some exercise. A good place to start is on the stairs. Walking a few flights several times a day is a good start on that 30 minutes. To entice workers, companies should make their stairwells attractive and fun. Add music, murals or graffiti contests. Or try lotteries with a chance to win any time you walk up or down one flight. Finally, better align health insurance incentives with behavior. One of the biggest health care problems is that patients don’t keep up with their medications, even those that might save their lives. Why charge people who’ve had heart attacks a co-payment when they fill prescriptions that reduce the chance of another attack? Instead, make those prescriptions free and use technology to remind them to take their medicine, either with a text message or a pillbox that starts beeping if you forget to take your pills.

And here’s a practice we should use more often: Offer insurance discounts to reward healthy behavior. Saving $500 on a premium is a good incentive to quit smoking or lose some weight.

My New Year’s resolution is to take at least two walking meetings a week. How about you?