Personalized Nutrition: Are employee benefits one way to expand access to personalized nutrition?

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Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 26 No. 6
Volume 26
Issue 6

One idea is to offer personalized vitamin subscription services through employee health-benefit plans.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/STOATPHOTO

Photo © AdobeStock.com/STOATPHOTO

Personalized nutrition is poised to significantly shape healthcare as we know it in the years to come. We now have evidence showing that the way to optimal nutrition and health is to customize interventions according to each individual’s health status, lifestyle, and other unique characteristics. As this area of research gains support from government entities like the National Institutes of Health and through groundbreaking studies like PREDICT 1, personalized nutrition, or precision nutrition, will become a bigger piece of the healthcare puzzle. But who actually has access to personalized nutrition today?

As Harvard University’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states on its website1, “It’s…important to recognize that personalized approaches may be accessible to only a small segment of the population, which can widen health disparities.”

Take vitamins and supplements. While personalized supplements continue gaining traction, there’s a lot more room to grow, to teach consumers why individualized strategies are best and what their own unique health needs are. On top of that, we need to ensure more people have access to personalized supplements.

One idea is to offer personalized vitamin subscription services through employee health-benefit plans. This June, Edenred, a digital platform for the workplace, added to its list of benefits discounts to personalized vitamin subscription company Vous Vitamin. Employees who sign up for Edenred’s Lifestyle Spending Accounts gain access to Vous Vitamin’s subscription services at a reduced price and get additional perks.

There are specific benefits to exposing consumers to personalized nutrition through the workplace, says Arielle Levitan, MD, Vous Vitamin’s cofounder.

First, there’s already trust built in. “The employer benefits channel is a critical forum to raise awareness and expand access to personalized vitamin offerings because it helps employees engage with confidence in a vendor program that has been independently vetted and reviewed…” Levitan points out. And for people who lack nutrition knowledge and aren’t comfortable shopping for supplements on their own, “The discovery of a personalized vitamin offering through their employer can provide the educational resources and digital navigation to make better decisions and experience products that are more tailored to their needs as compared to mass-market products,” she says.

Of course, people are also likelier to try a service if they’re getting a discount through their employer. And those who do so may find targeted personalized supplements a more cost-efficient option rather than spending money on a hit-or-miss intervention that may or may not work for the individual. In the case of Vous Vitamin, by using personal health and lifestyle data “to deliver better-targeted, all-in-one multivitamin blends with calibrated dosing and efficient composition of nutrients,” Levitan says, it “can often eliminate the need for add-on letter vitamins to get reasonable dosing, or the unnecessary expense of excess nutrients.”

And compared to others, she says, “Our personalized vitamin subscription service runs $1 per day or less at sticker price before group discounts are applied through employer programs. This typically represents 50% or greater annual savings versus do-it-yourself (‘DIY’) shopping in the retail vitamin aisles. We do not alter the price based on individual recommendations or charge ‘per pill’ pricing for a personalized vitamin pack, which can frequently reach $100+ per month and may require handfuls of pills.” This, she says, is attractive to companies looking to provide their employees with the best options. “Employers and partners respect that we establish guardrails that attempt to protect the consumer and stick to recommendations that address essential daily nutrition,” she says.

Workplace access remains an important part of Vous Vitamin’s strategy to increase consumer access to personalized nutrition. The company currently works with leading health plans, benefits consultancies and brokerages, HR technology platforms, and other Lifestyle Spending Account programs. Levitan adds, “We were named by Josh Bersin & Associates, a leading HR technology analyst, as a top corporate well-being benefit vendor and the only physical health solution to focus on vitamin navigation.”

Improving access to personalized nutrition for all people should be an ongoing goal, especially as evidence indicates this could be the most effective way to address health moving forward. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website states, “We must not lose sight of improving the broader food environment through effective policies, regulations, and other population-based approaches that can help make healthy food choices the default.” This includes expanding access through FSA/HSA programs, which generally don’t cover broader vitamins.

For now, workplace programs are a viable tool for companies like Vous Vitamin. Says Levitan: “It is always beneficial to use pre-tax dollars for health product purchases, but when FSA/HSA coverage is not available because of IRS restrictions, there should be efforts made to create synthetic savings programs, which is what we do through our employer and technology partnerships. LSAs represent a new frontier for employer subsidization of vitamin purchases, and we are proud to partner with Edenred and other leading LSA account managers to unlock this opportunity for covered populations. Discounts and subsidies are critical to expand access, but without proper digital navigation and education, it can be counterproductive to employee health. You need to complement access with clinically sound guidance and tools to ensure a personalized, consumer-centric journey. Otherwise, we are just repeating the environment that can already be found in retail mass market and risking that employees will suboptimize decisions around their own health.”

Don’t miss Levitan and her fellow cofounder at Vous Vitamin, Romy Block, MD, who will be guest speakers at Nutritional Outlook’s upcoming “Personalized Nutrition: Success Strategies & Challenges” webcast on August 22. During the event, Levitan and Block will discuss key issues surrounding personalized nutrition today, including the role of artificial intelligence, data protection, and scientific substantiation. Click here to register.

Reference

  1. Precision Nutrition. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed July 18, 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/precision-nutrition/
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