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How Is Your Worksite Wellness Program Addressing The Biopsychosocial Nature Of Health? (Are You?)

Health is a complex concept. And you do want to understand how to best address it, correct?

I have previously written that health and wellness are two clearly different concepts. As a result, I see the work-site wellness programs of today as not really being wellness programs at all, but really being employee health status management programs. If you accept this premise, this means that as a work site wellness professional you should have a clear understanding about the nature of health. Do you think you do?

Health, like wellness, can have many different definitions. Again, like wellness, there appears to be agreement around the idea that health is a complex concept which has several different determinants. The determinants of health can be classified into several broad categories: policy making, social factors, health services, individual behavior and biology and genetics. Health is often referred to as being a complex bio psycho-social concept.

Breaking the term bio psycho-social down into its component parts suggests the term consists of three major components: biological, psychological and social. So how do these component parts each contribute to an individual’s health?

Biological – The biological and genetic or physical (physiological) determinants of health, as well as individual behaviors, are generally the focus of most work site wellness programs today. Programming often takes the form of health risk identification and measurement (commonly called risk reduction) and disease or condition management strategies. These speak to the biology and genetics of health.

Two common measurement tools used in work site wellness programs today are health risk assessments and bio-metric screenings which are designed to measure and categorize health risks and basic biological body measures respectively. The basic biological measures serve as markers for an individual’s health status. Ideally, these measures should be within what has been determined to be a normal clinical range.

Psychological – It is now generally accepted that our brain and our body in separable. There is an undeniable connection between the mind and the body. While the exact mechanism may not yet be clearly understood, there is agreement cognition, thoughts, attitude and feelings influence our health. Our thoughts and feelings do have a physical impact on our body. They influence our nervous system, our immune system, our hormone system and subsequently our health.

Disease states are strongly influenced both in onset and duration by the way we think and behave. Our emotional responses result in hormone releases which in turn affect our health. It is clear that how a person feels, or their psychological states including a sense of energy, vigor, durability, hardiness, resilience, optimism, high life satisfaction and positive emotions all reflect the psychological connection to physical health, thereby representing the psychological component in bio psycho-social.

Social – The person – environment fit is reflective of the social component in bio psycho-social. The social determinants of health typically refer to the social environment and the physical environment, which are not controllable by the individual, but affect the individual’s environment and health.

Social determinants are complex, integrated, and overlapping social structures and economic systems linked to a lack of opportunity and to a lack of resources to protect, improve, and maintain health. Environmental factors, such as housing conditions, living conditions, social networks, and social support are also key drivers.

Examples of social determinants include:

• Availability of resources to meet daily needs, such as educational and job opportunities, living wages, or healthy food

• Social norms and attitudes

• Exposure to crime, violence, and social disorder

• Socioeconomic conditions, such as poverty

• Social support and social interactions

Social support, social interactions and friendships have been determined by researchers to provide many benefits. They influence many major aspects of our life. They also provide many beneficial life enhancing roles. Social support is critical. In fact, a lack of friends can be deadly.

We lean on social support, social interactions and friendships for:

• Intellectual stimulation

• Emotional support

• Fun activities

• Support for making behavior changes

The skills necessary for making good social support, interactions and friendship are also the skills necessary for success in life. Social support, social interactions and friendships are also great wellness tools for the work-site wellness professional to tap into.

How is your work-site wellness program addressing each component of the bio psycho-social nature of health?