OREANDA-NEWS. October 20, 2015. Most of the information and guidance we receive related to our health goes in the “one size fits all” category. Get more than 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Eat less than 3,000 calories a day. While these general guidelines can be helpful, we all have unique characteristics – both in our personalities and our genetics – that would be better served with personalized support.

Aetna recently found positive results with a pilot program using this type of targeted approach. Aetna  Innovation Labs worked with Newtopia, a personalized health company that used a combination of behavioral science and limited genetic testing to build a highly personalized disease prevention and weight management program for Aetna employees at high risk for metabolic syndrome.  Over the course of the year-long program, the study found that:

  • Approximately three quarters of the more than 400 people in the program reported significant weight loss, with an average weight loss of 10 pounds.
  • People in the program improved in several of the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, including waist size, triglycerides and “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels.
  • Average health care costs were reduced \\$122 per program participant per month.

Results of the study were published in the September 25 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Old school versus new school thinking

The pilot program was designed to be both highly personalized and “high touch.” Employees were provided personal coaches and client care managers to achieve high levels of engagement and sustain behavioral changes, with consistent interaction between health coaches and the participants. The people in the program could reach out to their coaches by Skype, phone or e-mail. More than 50 percent of those enrolled remained engaged for 12 months, a significant improvement over the industry average.

Participants also had a mobile app and a personalized website that was tailored to their specific goals and allowed them to enter information related to their physical activity, behavior management and nutrition.

Targeted genetic testing added an innovative element to each personalized health plan. While there are more than 50 genes involved with obesity, the program focused on identifying three specific genes with connections to obesity, appetite and compulsive behavior. People in the program voluntarily provided saliva samples for this test, which were then analyzed by the Newtopia team.  (For privacy reasons, Aetna never had access to the genetic tests of the participants).

The results of the genetic test in conjunction with a personality profile were used to help create a personalized nutrition, activity and behavior management plan, and to pair people up with a health coach.

The results of the genetic test, in conjunction with a personality profile, were used to help create a personalized nutrition, activity and behavior management plan, and also identify the best health coach for the participant based on a proprietary personality-matching algorithm. The results of the genetic test were also shared with the program participants, with some participants describing increased levels of engagement as the result.

Pilot success leads to widespread availability

Based on the success of this pilot program, Aetna is now offering the Newtopia program to its largest customers and their employees. We are also evaluating how this type of personalized, targeted approach could be applied to helping people with other health conditions.

We are already used to receiving personalized recommendations in our everyday life, such as things we buy online and movies and television shows that we watch. While our activities as consumers can have importance, our health is our greatest asset. We should expect and demand a similar type of personalized approach – with personalized wellness programs that are aimed at improving our individual health.  This can be achieved by appropriately combining clinical science and technology to create individualized programs that truly make a difference.