The woman was just 25 years old, and a runner.
So it was surprising when her total cholesterol registered at 343 milligrams per deciliter of blood — significantly higher than the desired level of 200 or less.
She took the results to her doctor, changed her diet and exercise regimens and, in six months, saw the number drop by more than 100 points.
The improvement came after a biometric screening performed at 614Fitness, a health studio in Columbus, Ohio.
Co-owner Jim Hofstetter said the screenings are part of an overall health regimen.
“What a biometric screening does is give them a window into that physical side of their life,” Hofstetter said. “It’s just a picture, a snapshot.”
Those snapshots are widely being offered at workplaces, pharmacies and even fitness clubs in an effort to detect risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
People can then be guided to primary-care physicians, specialists or programs that might help them get healthier.
The screenings generally measure blood pressure, heart rate and body mass and involve a finger prick to get a drop of blood to also collect cholesterol and blood-sugar levels.
Other measures might include nutrition, fitness or vaccine screenings, body fat percentage and the A1C blood test that can indicate prediabetes.
“Knowledge is power, right? So we want to make sure patients know where they stand so they can continue to improve their health,” said Hope Hill, a patient-practice coordinator for Kroger, which conducts screenings in its pharmacies and through workplaces that provide them to employees.
About three-quarters of large employers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health offer biometric screenings, a number that has stayed consistent the past few years, said LuAnn Heinen, vice president of well-being and productivity at the Washington, D.C.-based group.
Employers aren’t privy to individual results, she said, but use aggregated data to help guide employee offerings, such as smoking-cessation programs, healthier vending choices or on-site gyms.
Screenings are pretty much expected at large companies, but also are seen at some smaller employers, said Dr. Daniel Wendorff, president of Columbus-based Mount Carmel Health Partners.
He said they have a “triple aim” of decreased cost, better care for the individual and, perhaps most important, addressing population health, allowing employers to focus on, for example, prediabetes if it is indicated in a large number of people.
Marissa Michaels, vice president of OhioHealth employer services, called screening “a foundation for understanding where you fall related to health and wellness” that can help an employer drive down risk factors across an entire population while also giving individuals the opportunity to make changes.
Michaels said they’re more prevalent than ever, and some allow for a person with a risk factor to be referred to an on-site program to make an immediate connection. That might be a smoking-cessation program, a prediabetes program or a virtual walking program,a web-based program that provides virtual incentives for walking.
“It’s not just the sharing of the information, it’s a coaching of what to do next,” she said. “We’re doing it to make sure folks get help.”
The caveat, Heinen said, is that no one wants an employer managing their health.
“Framing this as something that we’re doing with and for employees to support employees is really important, because each individual owns his or her life journey. And when it comes to making changes to support health, that really can only come from within,” she said. “So it’s got to be pull, not push, to entice people down the path.”
Kari DuBro, manager of employee wellness at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said specific targets are prediabetes and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms — high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist and high cholesterol and triglycerides — that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The results guide program choices, and employees can benefit from such services as health coaching or classes at the hospital’s wellness center.
Since screenings started 10 years ago, there have been decreases in metabolic syndrome and other elevated risk factors among Nationwide Children’s employees, results that, DuBro noted, could be attributed to a number of factors.
As for benefits to employers, she said, health-care costs go down if a disease such as diabetes never fully develops.
But the financial benefits don’t come quickly, Wendorff noted. Though positive return on investment might be seen in the short run because of fewer employee absences, the dollar savings come over years, not months.
“This really is an indication to your colleagues that you’re in it for the long run with them,” he said.
-- JoAnne Viviano writes about health and medicine for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @JoAnneViviano.