Delving into social determinantsof the health of employees may require sharing of personaldata—something that employees often are reluctant to do.

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American health care consumers overestimate how much clinicalcare affects overall health, a new survey from Welltok finds. Thestudy found instead that social determinants have a much biggerimpact on an individual's health than many people realize.

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According to Welltok, a consulting firm based in Denver,clinical care accounts for only 10 percent of health overall,genetics accounts for 20 percent, environment accounts for another20 percent, and lifestyle behaviors are the drivers for 50 percentof a person's health.

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Related: How social determinants of health affect youremployee benefit program

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This conflicts with public perceptions, the study found. In asurvey of more than 2,000 adults across the U.S., Welltok askedAmericans what they considered the top drivers of health. In thesurvey, respondents said 49 percent of health was determined bygenetics and clinical care, and 51 percent was determined byenvironment and lifestyle factors. In fact, literature from theJournal of Preventive Medicine found that 70 percent of health isdetermined by environment and lifestyle, and 30 percent by geneticsand clinical care.

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"While many consumers recognize the impact lifestyle andenvironmental factors play in their health, they over-estimate thedegree that clinical care and genetics influence their health," thestudy said.

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Identifying issues, struggling with solutions

The report credits health care consumers as becoming more awarein recent years of the variety of determinants that affect health.For example, its survey found that 70 percent of respondents saidthat the type of industry a person works in is predictive of healthstatus. An additional 49 percent said commute time has a predictive value when itcomes to health. Another 49 percent said type of housing has apredictive value for health status.

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Where consumers struggle more, the report said, is in figuringout how to improve their own health. "Employees recognize that theyneed help–nearly half who responded are not at their optimalhealth, and target improvement areas vary significantly," thereport said. "Furthermore, nearly three-fourths (69 percent) arefacing obstacles preventing them from improving their health."

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The survey also found workers want more from their employers inthis area—70 percent said their employer should do more to supporttheir well-being needs. And 69 percent said they would be moreloyal as employees if their company provided holistic healthsupport.

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"Furthermore, companies are in a position to help – and should,"the Welltok report said. "They would not only benefit fromincreased productivity, lower medical costs and happier employees,but also generate greater employee loyalty."

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Pros and cons with personalized support

Delving into social determinants of the health of employees mayrequire sharing of personal data—something that employees often are reluctant to do. Levels ofloneliness, social media usage, personal financial stressors, debtissues—these are sensitive items for employees. Welltok hasdeveloped predictive analytics and machine learning technologies tohelp identify these issues but said that privacy and security willhave to remain top priorities.

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The good news, the report said, is that even with privacyconcerns, employees show a strong desire for personalizedinteraction with health programs. The company's survey found that82 percent of respondents say they would increase participation inhealth and wellbeing programs with personalized support.

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Officials with the company said more awareness about socialdeterminants of health can help employers predict future needs andrisks of their employee population. It can also provide data onwhich programs will be effective in supporting employees both nowand in the future.

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