American Express: Leveraging Non-traditional Disease Education into Wellness Strategies

August 13, 2015

Many people may not know that health nonprofits do more than invest research money for cures. The discoveries that come fromresearch include why diseases occur, therapies and medicationsthat can help manage them and the information that can beshared from breakthroughs. From research comes learning, andfrom learning comes educational opportunities to help thoseimpacted by the very conditions that many nonprofit healthorganizations set out to find cures for.

Here, Denise Erickson and Maureen McCluskey, corporatehealth managers at American Express, share how they blendedhealth nonprofits in nontraditional disease education withtraditional resources to develop a program that positivelyaffected the health and wellness of their employees.


Diabetes is a leading health concern in the United States.Approximately 5-10 percent of employee have diagnosed or non-diagnosed diabetes. More than 29 million Americans havediabetes – of these, more than 8 million people do not knowthey have the condition.

A workplacecost-calculatorestimates a company with 1,000employees will have 100 with diabetes and another 250 at-risk.1The total cost of diagnosed diabetes rose to $245 billion in2012, including $69 billion in reduced productivity.

Diabetes and the potential for the disease were found to beprevalent following a strictly confidential health-risk appraisaloffered to American Express employees. Diabetes was foundto be a prevalent condition among employees. Research hasdemonstrated the importance of lifestyle changes to decreasethe likelihood ofpre-diabetesprogressing to diabetes.


Knowing how common pre-diabetes and diabetes are amongemployees, American Express began offering a “Healthy Livingwith Diabetes” educational program in 2012. Before embarking on this wellness strategy, American Express partnered withCommunity Health Charities, a non-profit strategic healthorganization with particular expertise in diabetes, to helpdiabetic employees manage their disease including lifestyleinterventions for prevention.

Healthy Living with Diabetes was rolled out to six majorwork locations with onsite clinics in 2012 and then to all U.S.employees online in 2013. The program has four key goals:

A communication plan was created for the program withthe tag line – It’s Not Just About the Sugar – featuring agummy bear graphic to offer a friendly and non-threateninginvitation for employees to join the program. All employeeswere informed of the program through promotional materials,stories via the company’s intranet site and tailored invitationssent to at-risk populations through networking groups. Program components included:

Diabetes Laboratory Testing

• Fasting blood sugars and hemoglobin A1C levels wereoffered to employees with diabetes at baseline and thenat six months, 12 months, two years and three years. Employees shared results with doctors.

Webinars/Lunch-and-Learn Sessions

One-on-One Sessions

Tools & Resources

An online health information site was created for the AmericanExpress virtual community. Content was updated every twoweeks and included:

Impact on Employees

After three years, American Express has had several hundredemployees join its Healthy Living with Diabetes program. As a result, 58 percent of its employees with diabetes have reportedkeeping their A1C -- a measurement of one’s average bloodglucose (blood sugar) -- below 7. Follow- up measurement revealed 62 percent with A1C below 7. The chart belowindicates that participants did report behavior changes andbetter understanding of diabetes and care:

Healthy Living with Diabetes could not have been successfulwithout the collaborative effort of internal and externalresources. By leveraging relationships with nonprofit healthorganizations, American Express was able to provide:

Utilizing nontraditional avenues to enhance and/or expandwellness strategies can have a positive impact on employees. American Express continues to use these avenues in educationalprograms focusing on diseases that are critical to companyemployees like migraine, asthma, arthritis and heart disease. To learn more, join American Express at the breakout session -Leveraging Health Nonprofits into Your Well-Being Strategy –Monday, Sept. 28, 3:10–4 p.m. -- at the Employer Healthcare& Benefits Congress, in Orlando, Fla.

Thomas G. Bognanno, President & CEO of Community Health Charities, works with a network of nearly 2,000 trusted health charities across the country. The organization leverages health nonprofits with the overall wellness and philanthropic strategies needed to engage employees in health initiatives, raise awareness and deploy critical funds for their charities –

1 Workplace Cost Calculator; American Diabetes Association;; Accessed July 28, 2015.