Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Generic Wellness Won't Work

Typically, I'm a cost conscious guy. I'll always consider the mildly labeled product that reads, "Compare to... ABC brand” The generic alternative often offers me a nearly identical product at a lower cost. At the same time, I'm also a bit of a skeptic. I stand in the store aisle and read the label of any particular product, comparing the generic to the branded version and debate with myself, "While the ingredients read the same, they can't really be the same, can they? Certainly the branded version has a leg up in effectiveness or something, just look at the colorful marketing on the packaging." In many cases, I am wasting my time as the products are, in fact, seemingly identical. Yet, sometimes there is a difference. Take Rice Krispies for example. While the "Crisped Rice" version offers a cost savings, they just don't snap, crackle, and pop in the same way as their legendary counterpart. And maybe it's just me, but the bags of the generic cereal never seem to open easily. You pull and tug until the bags bursts on all sides, cereal spilling everywhere. English muffins are the same. While the generic offers something that looks very similar, Thomas' version has nooks and crannies abounding throughout while the knock off has a flattened surface allowing your spread to just melt and run off the top. In that case, I might as well just have had toast. While generic alternatives are often an economical option, it's in the details that you must pay close attention to not sacrifice quality.

Most health care dollars are spent on treatment as opposed to prevention. In fact, according to the PA Dept of Health, of every dollar spent on health care, only about 4 cents is spent on prevention and public health. In turn, most is spent on treating preventable diseases ($55.9 billion in PA). One such preventable disease is the obesity epidemic. According to a source report referenced by the PA Dept of Health, Pennsylvania's rank has dropped from the 22nd heaviest state (2009) to 19th heaviest (2011). In addition, 1 in 3 Pennsylvania babies born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime due to the obesity epidemic. This tragedy is relatively easy to address, yet we too often fail to make considerable progress. Why? Perhaps the solutions offered are too generic.

In the book, Switch, the Heath brothers talk about a particular community where there was a highly touted initiative to promote wellness and make their community healthier. In spite of considerable resources and funding, it failed. After reviewing their approach, they determined that the messaging was too generic. "Get Healthy," is ambiguous. Instead, they targeted one particular message. They asked people to make one, small change and switch from 2% milk to skim. The initiative was a success and the results were tangible and quantifiable in terms of improving the health of their community. The message wasn't generic, it was specific.

A place like the Y offers a vast array of health and wellness options. Recently, we've worked to consolidate our main messaging in our ongoing efforts to improve the nation's health and well-being. When you visit the Y, you can receive a refrigerator-friendly takeaway that outlines 3 simple steps to a healthier lifestyle. Detailed points are highlighted under the steps of Get Fit, You Are What You Eat, and Stay Motivated. Follow these three specific steps and you're likely to see results.

Seeking the generic can be an efficient approach to shopping. It's not effective in promoting health and wellness. The focus and the details matter. "Be healthier" or "exercise more" often aren't tangible enough to move anyone to action. Reduce sugary beverages from your diet and walk at least 30-60 minutes daily (even if it's around your workplace) are more practical.

As we enter 2012, I encourage you to be frugal and go with the generic when it makes sense. However, when it comes to pursuing a healthier lifestyle or, perhaps, choosing breakfast foods, be specific and don't sacrifice quality or results.