Q: My company now requires an annual health checkup to assess our weight, height, body fat and blood pressure, or we end up paying $50 more a month for health insurance. They say they won’t penalize us for “bad” results, as long as we get the checkup. What do you think? — Mike P., Ocala, Fla.
A: We’ll tell you what we think, but first, here’s what we know. In the U.S., adults are twice as likely to have heart problems, arthritis, cancer and diabetes as those in Europe and Canada, and four to six times as likely (at the same ages) as folks in Japan, Mexico and China. It’s because of tobacco use, food choices and portion sizes, physical inactivity and unmanaged stress — all self-inflicted reasons that rates of chronic illness and health care costs (public and private) are so much higher in the U.S. than elsewhere.
Telling employees to chip in another $600 a year for health insurance if they don’t get a physical may not be the optimal way to improve workers’ health or lower insurance costs, but we sympathize. (There’s a lot of evidence that a carrot works better than a stick, but more on that later.)
When you get an annual physical, if you find out you have high cholesterol and start taking a statin, for example, you’ll lower your risk of heart disease and lower long-term health care costs for you and your company. Win-win.
Now, about that carrot (so good for you): Dr. Mike’s Wellness Center advises many companies on wellness issues for their employees. And when companies offer incentives and rewards (cash) instead of penalties for losing weight, quitting smoking and reducing high blood pressure and lousy LDL cholesterol, employees see lasting improvements in their health, and companies see huge savings.
Even though your company isn’t that progressive, you should take advantage of the annual health checkup to launch your own health-improvement campaign. You’ll gain a lot more than $600 — a longer life, happier outlook, less stress, better sex and more self-confidence, for starters.
Q: I heard most fish-oil supplements don’t deliver the health benefits they claim. Is that true, and what’s a good alternative? — Anonymous
A: Fish-oil supplements are just that, supplements, and therefore not tightly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Most of the omega-3 fish-oil supplements that are on the market today are EPA and DHA EE (ethyl ester) concentrates, or what we call resynthesized fish oil. The problem is that resynthesized ethyl ester fish oil contains a form of DHA that keeps natural DHA from doing its job on a molecular and cellular level. And the EE concentrates only have about 50 percent of the bioavailability of the true omega-3s (EPA and DHA) that come straight from fish or algae (which is where the fish get theirs).
This matters, because many people take fish oil to help lower their blood pressure, reduce body-wide inflammation, prevent heart disease and cancer, and manage type 2 diabetes. But we know resynthesized fish oil fails to deliver blood-pressure-lowering benefits, for example, and that’s a heart-health hazard.
So, always be vigilant about reading the labels and double-check to make sure your fish oil is not an ethyl ester or EE; it should be a triglyceride (TG). If it doesn’t say it’s TG, look for another source. When you do, there are some easy options:
1. Get your omega-3 DHA from algal oil supplements. We do; microalgae are what fish eat to make their omega-3s.
2. Feast on DHA two or three times a week from a 3- to 4-ounce serving of salmon or ocean trout — the only two fish commonly available in the U.S. that are sure to have an ample dose of DHA.
3. Or be super-safe and go for Options 1 AND 2. We take 900 IU of algal-oil DHA a day as an insurance policy, in case we miss our serving of salmon.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.