What is Wellness Screening?

The last few years it would have been hard to miss the health care debate between political parties, in the press and, for some of us, between friends and family.  The ever-increasing cost of health care as well as the concern with funding Medicare promises to the elderly in the future have been key drivers of the debate and led to some extreme views about rationing health care and so called “death panels”.  Some studies have also estimated that retirees may each need a quarter of a million dollars for medical costs not covered by medicare. For most people, options to address this now will come down to saving more, working longer and being proactive in managing one’s health.

Consumer-driven Health Care

Wellness ScreeningThis brings me to something new I’ve noticed in health care plans offered at my job, and echoed by family and friends at theirs, called “wellness screenings” that is often part of a concept called consumer-driven health care.  Similar in concept to the differences between defined benefit (pensions) and defined contribution (401K/IRA) retirement plans, consumer-driven health care transfers some of the burden on controlling health care costs to the consumer.  This will be done by encouraging the consumer to shop around for the best price for a procedure and to have the consumer take proactive steps in preserving their health.  One proactive step is to have yearly wellness screenings.

What is Wellness Screening?

At my job, wellness screening consists of a series of tests, usually taking no more than a half hour to complete, that measure key health statistics.  It is not a substitute for yearly checkups with your doctor but I have found it provides me with key metrics on my health and may point to areas of improvement.   It supports the adage that you must measure to manage.  My recent wellness screening covered the following health related items.  After defining them, I’ll list what I was provided as optimal readings for each:

Optimal Cholesterol Levels
Total Cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol at any given time including High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL).  HDL is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol as it clears the arteries and veins of fat deposits that may cause clotting.   LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the buildup of plaque deposits on the artery walls (referred to as atherosclerosis).
  • Optimal Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/ld
  • Optimal HDL for men: Higher than 40 mg/dl
  • Optimal HDL for women: Higher than 50 mg/dl
  • Optimal LDL: less than 100 mg/dl
  • Optimal TC/HDL Ratio: Less than 4.0

Sources: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/atglance.pdf

Optimal Triglyceride Level
Triglycerides are composed of fatty acids and glycerol and, a high reading, may increase the risk of heart disease.  Food consumption impacts triglyceride levels.
  • Less than 100 mg/dl

Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/atglance.pdf

Optimal Glucose Levels
Elevated Glucose (Blood Sugar) levels have serious long term impact as it is an indication of pre-diabetes or diabetes.  Diabetes, if untreated, can increase the risk of heart disease and cause nerve, liver and eye damage.
  • Less than 100 mg/dL when fasting, or less than 140 mg/dL when not fasting

Source: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/riskfortype2/risk.pdf

Normal Blood Pressure
Blood Pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries. The top number, systolic pressure, is the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, is the pressure in the arterial walls when the heart is resting between beats. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder than normal and increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
  • Systolic – less than 120;  Diastolic – less than 80

Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/express.pdf

Normal BMI
BMI (Body Mass Index) is determined using a mathematical formula applied to weight and height and is one measure to indicate if a person is normal, underweight or overweight. It is one of many indicators that can help determine the risk of developing a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes.
  • 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2

Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/ob_gdlns.pdf

Recommended Body Fact Percentages

Since the body is composed of fat and lean mass, the body fat percentage indicates how much of total weight comes from fat as opposed to lean mass. Lean mass is the weight of all bones, organs, muscles and fluids. A percentage above optimal may indicate a risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, or other chronic health problems.

Age-adjusted Body Fat Percentage Recommendation for Men


Under Weight

Healthy Range



20-40 yrs

Under 8%

8 – 19%

19.1 – 25%

Over 25%

41-60 yrs

Under 11%

11 – 22%

22.1 – 27%

Over 27%

61-79 yrs

Under 13%

13 – 25%

25.1 – 30%

Over 30%

Age-adjusted Body Fat Percentage Recommendation for Women


Under Weight

Healthy Range



20-40 yrs

Under 21%

21 – 33%

33.1 – 39%

Over 39%

41-60 yrs

Under 23%

23 – 35%

35.1 – 40%

Over 40%

61-79 yrs

Under 24%

24 – 36%

36.1 – 42%

Over 42%

Source: Gallagher et al. Am J Clin Nut 2000; 72-694-701 – http://www.ajcn.org/content/72/3/694.long