People are funny. Changing our behavior is no laughing matter.

Fad diets and workouts aside, there is no secret about how to improve your health: eater better, get some exercise, lower your stress. Given all that it is still really difficult to change people’s behavior.

Over the past decade the idea of ‘corporate wellness plans’ has taken hold. Companies, who help pay for their employees health insurance, have implemented plans to help their employees get healthier and better manage their existing health conditions. The funny thing is, the first concerted effort to measure the effectiveness of these types of plans came up with a whole lot of nothing. Reed Abelson writing at the New York Times highlights a recent study published in JAMA. The report’s conclusion includes this nugget:

Among employees of a large US warehouse retail company, a workplace wellness program resulted in significantly greater rates of some positive self-reported health behaviors among those exposed compared with employees who were not exposed, but there were no significant differences in clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, and employment outcomes after 18 months.

Abelson notes that some companies seem to be shifting their efforts towards other areas of health including reduced stress and better financial wellness programs. Either way, it will be interesting to see if these efforts move the needle to any great degree.

The world of investing is a great place to see just how long it can take to see individuals shift toward more rational, sustainable activities. For example, the first retail index mutual fund was introduced some 42 years ago. The Vanguard Group’s First Index Investment Trust was at the time labeled ‘Bogle’s Folly.’ It took, quite literally, decades for index funds to become a first-line choice for individuals. This development should be celebrated as Jason Zweig notes below, but man it took a long time:

Happy birthday, index funds. Although critics still abound, we should all celebrate an innovation that has cut the cost of investing by more than 90% and radically democratized the financial markets.

It makes you wonder how long it will take other innovations to make their way into the consciousness of American consumers. For example, there is a great deal of work being done in the area of so-called alternative or lab-grown meats. There are a number of good reasons why we may want to move away from our current sourcing of proteins including: animal welfare, climate change and overall health. The billion-dollar question is how long this transition could take? Olga Khazan writing at The Atlantic took a culinary tour through the work of some of the leading companies in this space and noted:

But if Just and similar companies are successful, future generations might only know chicken to be a pleasant, meat-esque paste, with no bones and skins to speak of. In fact, our entire notion of animal products might become unhinged from animals. The idea that human gustatory pleasure necessarily involves the inhumane farming of other creatures might come to be seen as outdated and gauche.

Humans do change behavior over time, whether it be through necessity or choice. Generational transitions obviously play a big role in this, but there is hope that we can change, for the better, our actions. Experience teaches us that real change is difficult, takes time, patience and realistic expectations. Just remember that the next time you think about how you are going to change the world.

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