Disease & Genomics

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

Many people may not know that health nonprofits do more than invest research money for cures. The discoveries that come from research include why diseases occur, therapies and medications that can help manage them and the information that can be shared from breakthroughs.

From research comes learning, and from learning comes educational opportunities to help those impacted by the very conditions that many nonprofit health organizations set out to find cures for.

Here, Denise Erickson and Maureen McCluskey, corporate health managers at American Express, share how they blended health nonprofits in nontraditional disease education with traditional resources to develop a program that positively affected 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 have diabetes - of these, more than 8 million people do not know they have the condition.

A workplace cost-calculator estimates a company with 1,000 employees will have 100 with diabetes and another 250 at-risk.1 The total cost of diagnosed diabetes rose to $245 billion in 2012, including $69 billion in reduced productivity.

Diabetes and the potential for the disease were found to be prevalent following a strictly confidential health-risk appraisal offered to American Express employees. Diabetes was found to be a prevalent condition among employees. Research has demonstrated the importance of lifestyle changes to decrease the likelihood of pre-diabetes progressing to diabetes.


Knowing how common pre-diabetes and diabetes are among employees, American Express began offering a "Healthy Living with Diabetes" educational program in 2012. Before embarking on this wellness strategy, American Express partnered with Community Health Charities, a non-profit strategic health organization with particular expertise in diabetes, to help diabetic employees manage their disease including lifestyle interventions for prevention.

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

  • Educate employees on the value and importance of disease management;
  • Provide employees with information to enhance self-care;
  • Improve outcomes through systematic approaches;
  • Sustain employee engagement.

A communication plan was created for the program with the tag line - It's Not Just About the Sugar - featuring a gummy bear graphic to offer a friendly and non-threatening invitation for employees to join the program.

All employees were informed of the program through promotional materials, stories via the company's intranet site and tailored invitations sent to at-risk populations through networking groups. Program components included:

Diabetes Laboratory Testing

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

Webinars/Lunch-and-Learn Sessions

  • Diabetes Academy on-site at Wellness Centers
  • Diabetes Education webinar
  • Diabetes Care from Head-to-Toe
  • Know Your Numbers
  • Physical Activity webinar
  • Meal Planning/ Carb Counting webinar
  • Diabetes Medications webinar
  • Coping with a Chronic Condition webinar

One-on-One Sessions

  • Nurse/Nurse Practitioner
  • Registered Dietician
  • Health Coach
  • Pharmacist
  • Healthy Minds (EAP counselors)

Tools & Resources

  • Diabetes Awareness Blog by Corporate Medical Director
  • Healthy lifestyle programs for weight management, smoking cessation, exercise and stress management

An online health information site was created for the American Express virtual community. Content was updated every two weeks and included:

  • Information and videos on the monthly topic
  • A dietitian blog asking employees to comment
  • Quizzes
  • Webinar promotion and replays

Impact on Employees

After three years, American Express has had several hundred employees join its Healthy Living with Diabetes program. As a result, 58 percent of its employees with diabetes have reported keeping their A1C -- a measurement of one's average blood glucose (blood sugar) -- below 7.

Follow- up measurement  revealed 62 percent with A1C below 7. The chart below indicates that participants did report behavior changes and better understanding of diabetes and care:

Healthy Living with Diabetes could not have been successful without the collaborative effort of internal and external resources. By leveraging relationships with nonprofit health organizations, American Express was able to provide:

  • Webinars presented by physicians on diabetes care
  • Videos for posting on Healthy Living with Diabetes site
  • Healthy recipes

Utilizing nontraditional avenues to enhance and/or expand wellness strategies can have a positive impact on employees. American Express continues to use these avenues in educational programs focusing on diseases that are critical to company employees 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.

About the Author

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 - www.healthcharities.org.

1. Workplace Cost Calculator; American Diabetes Association; http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/awareness-programs/stop-diabetes-at-work/; Accessed July 28, 2015.

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