Wellness awareness? Rent a colon.

Building Better Benefit Fairs – say that ten times fast

EBN ( Employee Benefits News) recently published an article, dated 1-1-13, that highlighted two Midwest employers and their efforts to conduct a better employee benefit fair. We all agree that benefit fairs are an important staple of the overall employee benefit strategy and, largely, liked by employees. WestLake Financial Group, Inc. is no stranger to effective benefit fairs, having conducting them for our clients for over 20 years. Yet this article tickled us and here is why.

One group decided to employee a huge inflatable colon that employees could “walk and climb through” to build awareness about colonoscopy screenings. Now, we’ve done some fun things at our benefit fairs but we never, even remotely, thought to bring in an oversized, inflatable colon. I wondered, where in God’s green earth can you find such an item? A quick search on Google found not one, but many, vendors that rent massive colons. What’s more – you can rent large hearts and other organs, heck – you can even rent a complete “walk through” human being. The picture of this massive inflatable human, found below, looks like something out of a bad B movie. You enter his mouth and exit, well, you know where. Think of a stuffed pig at a picnic or roast. (see www.medicalinflatables.com)


Does this raise awareness? Perhaps. Does it create stir amongst the associates – sure. Therefore, it’s effective and valuable.

Nothing is taboo when it comes to educating our employees about better health, we should learn. Trying new tactics and a more interactive environment is key. Wellness may well be our last bastion to maintaining an affordable level of health care coverage for associates, long term.

For more information on how WestLake Financial Group, Inc. uses technology and data to control costs, please call 888-WESTLAKE or visit www.westlakefg.com

Southern Diet and fried foods may cause strokes -really?

We came across this article this morning and had to share it. The title tells all. Isn’t this like saying excessive alcohol intake may cause headaches? I was raised, for part of my youth, in Texas. Southern fried steaks, butter smothered grits, you name it – we ate it. In Texas gravy is considered a beverage. Just the same, we are what we eat I suppose. – Paul J. Burt

Southern diet, fried foods, may raise stroke risk

Published February 07, 2013
| Associated Press

Deep-fried foods may be causing trouble in the Deep South. People whose diets are heavy on them and sugary drinks like sweet tea and soda were more likely to suffer a stroke, a new study finds.

It’s the first big look at diet and strokes, and researchers say it might help explain why blacks in the Southeast – the nation’s “stroke belt” – suffer more of them.
Blacks were five times more likely than whites to have the Southern dietary pattern linked with the highest stroke risk. And blacks and whites who live in the South were more likely to eat this way than people in other parts of the country were. Diet might explain as much as two-thirds of the excess stroke risk seen in blacks versus whites, researchers concluded.

“We’re talking about fried foods, french fries, hamburgers, processed meats, hot dogs,” bacon, ham, liver, gizzards and sugary drinks, said the study’s leader, Suzanne Judd of the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

People who ate about six meals a week featuring these sorts of foods had a 41 percent higher stroke risk than people who ate that way about once a month, researchers found.

In contrast, people whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish had a 29 percent lower stroke risk.

“It’s a very big difference,” Judd said. “The message for people in the middle is there’s a graded risk” – the likelihood of suffering a stroke rises in proportion to each Southern meal in a week.

Results were reported Thursday at an American Stroke Association conference in Honolulu.

The federally funded study was launched in 2002 to explore regional variations in stroke risks and reasons for them. More than 20,000 people 45 or older – half of them black – from all 48 mainland states filled out food surveys and were sorted into one of five diet styles:
-Southern: Fried foods, processed meats (lunchmeat, jerky), red meat, eggs, sweet drinks and whole milk.
-Convenience: Mexican and Chinese food, pizza, pasta.
-Plant-based: Fruits, vegetables, juice, cereal, fish, poultry, yogurt, nuts and whole-grain bread.
-Sweets: Added fats, breads, chocolate, desserts, sweet breakfast foods.
-Alcohol: Beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, salad dressings, nuts and seeds, coffee.ee

“They’re not mutually exclusive” – for example, hamburgers fall into both convenience and Southern diets, Judd said. Each person got a score for each diet, depending on how many meals leaned that way.

Over more than five years of follow-up, nearly 500 strokes occurred. Researchers saw clear patterns with the Southern and plant-based diets; the other three didn’t seem to affect stroke risk.

There were 138 strokes among the 4,977 who ate the most Southern food, compared to 109 strokes among the 5,156 people eating the least of it.

There were 122 strokes among the 5,076 who ate the most plant-based meals, compared to 135 strokes among the 5,056 people who seldom ate that way.

The trends held up after researchers took into account other factors such as age, income, smoking, education, exercise and total calories consumed.

Fried foods tend to be eaten with lots of salt, which raises blood pressure – a known stroke risk factor, Judd said. And sweet drinks can contribute to diabetes, the disease that celebrity chef Paula Deen – the queen of Southern cuisine – revealed she had a year ago.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, drugmaker Amgen Inc. and General Mills Inc. funded the study.

“This study does strongly suggest that food does have an influence and people should be trying to avoid these kinds of fatty foods and high sugar content,” said an independent expert, Dr. Brian Silver, a Brown University neurologist and stroke center director at Rhode Island Hospital.

“I don’t mean to sound like an ogre. I know when I’m in New Orleans I certainly enjoy the food there. But you don’t have to make a regular habit of eating all this stuff.”

PPACA 2013 observations

We saw this timely article on EBN’s webpage and want to pass it on and comment.

While State exchanges are something that are part of our PPACA reality, the administration of these plans is an issue. How will they be enrolled and who handles the eligibility?

PPACA opposition – is 52% enough to overturn the law? It’s not likely, but this statistic continues to point to the fact that 78% of the Republicans in Congress still oppose Obamacare and 52% of survey’s respondents believe that the law should be overturned. This statistic, ironically, mirrors the election’s popular vote.

Women’s Health Care- PPACA’s birth control mandate may well be on the road to interpretation by our highest court but birth control is and always will be a personal choice. Despite how the law comes down, it will unlikely change the habits and desires of women in this matter. Therefore, the costs to the health care system won’t be reduced. They will likely increase due to uncollected expenses generated by these items.

Here is the article;

With the 113th Congress up and running and the president’s policy schedule filling up by the day, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health identified five things Americans would like the government to set as top health care priorities this year:

1. State exchanges. Fifty-five percent of respondents say state-based health insurance exchanges are a top priority for their lawmakers. With only 18 states and Washington, D.C., declaring they will create state exchanges, more information is needed on how federally run exchanges will operate in the remaining states. “This is the year of the health insurance exchange,” said David Colby of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at a luncheon held Thursday at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The panelists, including Drew Altman, CEO of KFF, noted that governors are still split along partisan lines about the creation of exchanges.

2. PPACA opposition. Fifty-two percent, including 78% of Republicans, say the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act opponents in Congress should continue trying to overturn the law. When asked why, a majority of respondents cited overturning the law for “less impact on taxpayers, employers and health care providers.”

3. PPACA complacency. Forty percent think that PPACA opponents in Congress should “accept that it is now the law of the land,” and move on to focus on implementation.

4. Premiums. Increasing state regulation of health insurance premiums should be a priority for lawmakers, 37% of respondents say.

5. Women’s health care. One-fifth of respondents believe lawmakers should limit women’s family planning, reproductive health and other services. A timely topic as PPACA’s birth control mandate seems poised to head to the Supreme Court later this year, according to the Associated Press.


Sobering Facts about Obesity – Why Wellness Integration is Necessary

When I focus on the facts about the lack of wellness in our workforce, it keeps me up at night. I worry for our associates. I worry for our children.

Concentrate on these facts about Obesity and you’ll agree.

  • Between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults. About 60 million adults, or 30% of the adult population, are now obese.
  • Similarly since 1980, overweight rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents – increasing the number of years they are exposed to the health risks of obesity.


This is only one aspect of the overall problem, of course. Yet it’s a powerful reminder that we are heading in the wrong direction.


Consider the fact that Westlake Financial Group, Inc.  has been on the front line of communication since 1999, when we introduced BenefitsTalk our on-line enrollment program. We found ourselves in the catbird seat. We’ve spent the last 12 years teaching associates how to use the internet to enroll in their benefit programs. Now they are teaching us that they would prefer to use the web for virtually all of their other needs. Therefore we need to provide the associates with wellness electives through and during enrollment.
During the new hire process and again during the open enrollment period, we need to provide the tools to the associate to become well. Over the last twelve years we’ve learned that a voluntary program simply doesn’t work. Therefore we must mandate that the associates comply. We can manage that process through financial incentives. PPACA for 2014 makes that initiative even more visible and viable.


Westlake Financial Group, Inc. has pioneered the use of data integrated into the online enrollment itself, to forecast the expected health issues arising. Through a combination of data integration and health risk assessments, including family health history we can create a probable scenario.
However, if we were successful in reaching all of our associates we would still miss our goal, until… we reach the dependents. Our BenefitsTalk program now asks questions of the spouse and the dependent children to age 26. If we don’ t manage the dependent expenses, we’ll never control the costs.
So let’s get started.