Cathy Kenworthy Interactive Health

Cathy Kenworthy on WGN’s Opening Bell: How a Well-Run Workplace Wellness Program Works

Interactive Health CEO Cathy Kenworthy recently joined Steve Grzanich on WGN’s Opening Bell to discuss why workplace wellness matters and how a well-run program should work.

As the show notes state: “Interactive Health has a mission to help companies thrive in that sense… Cathy (discussed) how focusing on physical and emotional health leads to success thanks to the strategic use of data.”


Steve Grzanich: Are you healthy, emotionally and physically? It is part of a good workplace. It helps you succeed there on the job. The mission statement at Interactive Health based in Schaumburg is to create healthy companies by improving employee health and that means emotional and physical health. In the CEO spotlight this morning, Cathy Kenworthy, the CEO of Interactive Health. Cathy, good morning and welcome to The Opening Bell.

Cathy Kenworthy: Good morning, Steve, thanks for having me

Steve Grzanich: Glad to have you with us this morning, because I think if you’re like me, if people are like me, you get up in the morning and the first thing you think about is health, and you want to be happy, and well. Do you wake up with sort of that sense every morning as well?

Cathy Kenworthy: I do, I do. I think that’s a very human thing. What’s possible for today?

Steve Grzanich: Yeah, and do you sort of do a … I don’t know, take a snapshot of all those things before you get going in the morning, or should we be doing that and say, “Hey, okay, I need to do this today to be happy, or I need to do this today to be well?”

Cathy Kenworthy: I really enjoy early morning time and I do use it to read and take in information. I probably am not thinking quite as much about specific goals for the day in terms of being healthy or happy, but I have certain routines in terms of things that get my head ready for the day.

Steve Grzanich: You’re an early morning person?

Cathy Kenworthy: Very much so.

Steve Grzanich: I’ve heard and seen a lot of different takes on this, that people who wake up early in the morning, we are among those, often do better, that they get more accomplished. Is there any truth to those studies?

Cathy Kenworthy: I can’t say that I know that for sure, but I do think having at least some period of time, some people are late night owls, some are early morning, times in a very busy existence that we all have with lots of information coming at us in this age of social media from lots of places, just some component of a day where you can gather yourself, tune in to what’s going on for you, and be ready for what’s coming at you, I think is important for everybody.

Steve Grzanich: Tell us about Interactive Health.

Cathy Kenworthy: Interactive Health is … You may read of and hear about mission driven companies. Interactive Health is a mission driven company. We believe in both altruism and capitalism with regard to health. We work with employers and are hired by employers to help employees be healthier and we do that in a very specific way and we’ve been doing that for actually coming up on 25 years, so we’ve been at it for quite a while. What we do, Steve, is we believe that information is power, people knowing a specific way what is their health, and then being curious and engaged in their health in a quantified way, is a huge motivator of improving health. We’re probably not the only company that thinks that health risk prevention is a good thing to do, but we do have a very specific way of thinking about it.

Steve Grzanich: How is that? How is that, that you do that? The quantitative part of it.

Cathy Kenworthy: We will engage hands on, on site in the workplace, help individuals in a very private way gather information about their health and then we’ll actually take blood and we’ll use that information in combination to apply what we know about prediabetes, hypertension, heart disease, anemia, a wide range of topics and we don’t diagnosis, we don’t treat, but we help people in a specific way understand and identify potential health risks and then we encourage those individuals to spend time with a physician, but do it in a way where the individual’s empowered, has information. We assign a score with regard to somebody’s health, as well as, a goal that’s specific to that individual.

Steve Grzanich: The empowered part of that is important, because those of us who go visit our doctors regularly, sometimes we don’t feel that at all. You feel like you’re sort of a cattle in a corral. Why is that important to be empowered?

Cathy Kenworthy: There’s been so much written about consumerism and I believe in consumerism, but I believe in empowered and knowledgeable consumerism. That if you’re informed, you’re going to make better decisions and whether it’s technology, whether it’s almost any means that we have today to make improvements in the kinds of decisions, I think information is part of that. It creates confidence, it creates the ability to actually have a conversation and I think physicians welcome that, honestly. We get very good feedback from physicians who have participants who show up with, maybe even a [trend 00:04:36] chart about what’s been happening with their blood pressure over a period of time, not just one snapshot. People who have the opportunity to read in layman’s terms information about what are sometimes complicated pieces of information about high cholesterol.

Empowered also means that people actually know what’s going on with their health. When we work with these populations, Steve, the great majority, even people who think they’re doing the right thing, are actually not informed about their health. When I first joined Interactive Health, I participated in a health evaluation and I thought, “Oh, well, I know what’s going on with my health and I’ll just do this so I have the experience,” and I learned that there was something that I was not aware of, that my physician was not aware of, that was part of my health situation. I think the idea of having information both allows it to be acted upon, but I think it actually motivates action.

Steve Grzanich: Also, that empowerment too, you sort of take ownership of it and if you fail, or pass, it’s on you at that point.

Cathy Kenworthy: Right. We believe very passionately that everybody should have resources to help them get there, so yes, accountable, but also help and support to get there. I think there has been an era, at least in the work site wellness space, where there’s been a view of paternalism, “We’ll tell people what to do.” I think that’s misguided. I think in our day and age it should not be, generally speaking, paternalistic. It should be, “Hey, the accountability for your health and the possibilities in your life are very impacted by your ability to be healthy.”

Steve Grzanich: This notion of wellbeing and overall health, it’s not just physical health, is it?

Cathy Kenworthy: Correct.

Steve Grzanich: Is it not?

Cathy Kenworthy: Correct. We have such a large dataset. Our information is actually three million individual participants over 25 years. We’ve worked with quite literally millions of individual employers as well and we’re using that information to learn about a whole range of pretty fascinating topics. One of the most important of which is the connection between physical and emotional health. We’ve been measuring and we have a statistically valid way of posing questions that allow us to understand risk of depression, risk of anxiety, risk of stress, risk of different issues that are important. How is somebody’s sleep health? We’re learning a lot about how do depression and diabetes connect to one another? How does anxiety and hypertension connect to one another? We certainly believe that attention to emotional health is a huge part of better physical health and attention to physical health is a huge enabler of emotional health.

Steve Grzanich: Taking the measure of all of this stuff, it sounds really comprehensive. Do you ever get folks who are worried about handing over that much information about themselves?

Cathy Kenworthy: For sure. I think privacy with regard to work site wellness is a very, very valid, extremely important topic and something that we do a lot of work to set people’s minds at ease in terms of we’re governed by regulations, we’re very, very private in terms of how this information is handled with regard to the employer. We are scrupulous about that, but I think it’s an extremely fair question and I think it’s something that … I think there have been studies done in terms of there’s disclosures that people sign, and you could write them and say anything in the middle of the disclosure, and people sign it without obviously not reading it. Read the disclosures, make sure that if you’re involved in a program like ours, that you understand whether that provider believes they can sell your information to a third-party, whether they believe they can … Which we do not. Look at that carefully and be sure you’re involved in a responsible program.

Steve Grzanich: You earn the trust then of people who are participating, because there are some who would think that maybe that information would be used against them in the workplace in some way. That’s not how you guys operate.

Cathy Kenworthy: We don’t operate and … By the way, I really do relate to and understand why people are worried about that. It’s not something we’ve seen an issue with any employer that we’ve worked with. I think most employers are sensitive to that issue as well. I do think it’s valid and it’s something that it’s worth reflecting on and making sure, as I say, that you’re working in a responsible program.

Steve Grzanich: Getting to see all those data points, as you mentioned, the millions of them.

Cathy Kenworthy: Right.

Steve Grzanich: What would you say are the biggest health problems, the biggest wellness problems or impacts that are effecting people these days?

Cathy Kenworthy: I personally am really zeroed in three areas. One is prediabetes, one is hypertension, and one is emotional health. Prediabetes, the American Medical Association indicates that 90 million Americans have prediabetes and 90% of them do not know, those individuals do not know that they have prediabetes. Prediabetes can be reversed and it is a … Probably one of the most tangible and specific exemplars of what good preventive health efforts can look like. It’s a very expensive thing to be diabetic, it’s a health condition that complicates almost every other element of one’s life, and I think it’s sort of the smoking of this generation. I really believe in terms of really undertaking much more aggressive interventions around identifying prediabetes and helping people pullback from it.

Hypertension is one that is very closely second in my mind to prediabetes. It’s also one with a staggering number of Americans who have hypertension. Again, it’s silent. There’s no necessary obvious evidence of being hypertensive and it’s one where the science is extremely well understood in terms of how to correct hypertension. Yet, the risk of stroke and all kinds of issues are the definite outcome of hypertension left to develop on its own. That’s a big topic and then emotional health as we talked about. I mean, I think there are … What’s interesting in our data, Steve, is that the incidents of emotional risk is much higher at younger ages and particularly among women and it is something that concerns me, that the younger women in the early part of their career, 20s and 30s, are being told, “You can have it all.” It turns out, it’s hard to have it all and so I can’t say for sure. I know that’s what the driver’s there, maybe we all just somehow get happier as we get older.

Steve Grzanich: Could be.

Cathy Kenworthy: Maybe its always been that way, but I think those are three topics that are well worth every employer’s attention.

Steve Grzanich: It also seems recently when the workplace … I know here on The Opening Bell, we’ve reported on it a couple of times, that the lack of sleep for workers is also a big deal.

Cathy Kenworthy: It is a big deal.

Steve Grzanich: How big of a deal are you seeing?

Cathy Kenworthy: Well, the sleep health issues are clearly and obviously correlated to prediabetes and some of the other topics that I talked about, so it goes with many of these topics. I think there is a tremendous amount … Like whereas I said on hypertension, the science of how to correct for hypertension is extremely well understood. I don’t know that I’m as convinced on sleep health, that we really know for sure how to impact it. There are sleep health techniques. There’s a favorite one I have that’s helped me quite a bit that’s called the four … I won’t get this quite right, but something like the four-eight-seven technique and it’s a breathing pattern where you breathe in for a certain set of counts, you hold your breath for a certain set of counts, and then you release your breath and it kind of triggers the relaxation mechanisms in your body. There are I think small things that can go a long way towards sleep health, but I think the longterm impacts of sleep health on health period are very important.

Steve Grzanich: How do you personally impact the culture at your company? You’ve mentioned a couple of times things that you do in your life that help you, that guide you. How do those go over with your employees? How do you maybe influence your employees with those areas?

Cathy Kenworthy: Yeah, it’s a great question, Steve. Our company, as I mentioned, is mission driven and we have an incredibly caring group of employees. We only work, by the way, through our own employees, so when we go on site to an employer’s work site and we work all over the country from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between, so we … Our individuals travel, they’re extremely caring and they’re very dedicated. Sometimes we are as caregivers the last ones to think about our own health, so I do spend quite a bit of time … We have a very generous vacation policy, we have a very generous set of benefits overall. We have our own work site wellness program that has very high levels of participation, as you might imagine, but it’s something where silence is not an option. As a leader I feel like putting words to and demonstrating to others the actions I take and the actions I’m inviting others to take to care for themselves as part of this is I think, something I try very hard to make sure is clear.

Steve Grzanich: What challenges do you face as the CEO of this company?

Cathy Kenworthy: My ambition for the company is that, I have a favorite saying, “Not every business in America does business with us, yet.” I believe that every single company in America could benefit from working with Interactive Health. We work with every size employer, we work with ship builders in Newport News, to private equity here in Chicago, to every kind of business function that you can imagine and employers spend half the healthcare dollars in this country. These are the connection between better health and more economic spend I have a lot of energy around. That said, scaling for that growth and achieving that growth in a way that’s sustainable, that is based on good process, and is based on not heroism in the middle of the night, but really thoughtful planning for what we want that growth to look like, that’s a huge challenge for me as the leader of the company.

Steve Grzanich: I’m sure you’ve been watching the stuff going on in Washington with the healthcare law and the repeal in place. Do you have any thoughts on that and what direction would you like to maybe see that go?

Cathy Kenworthy: I think it ties directly, Steve, to our conversation before about empowerment and accountability just at the employer level. I think if anybody is looking to Washington to sort of handle the topic of healthcare, we might want to think again. I think when we reflect on the fact that employers spend half the healthcare dollars in this country, spending those dollars wisely to plan for and implement effective preventive care health management programs are clearly a way to make, and we have all kinds of data given the size and scope of the data that I mentioned before, to unquestionably prove that people knowing what their health risks are, identifying those health risks, engaging with their personal physician, is the path. I think we … I will compliment the Affordable Care Act. I mean, I think it triggered in the private sector a lot of innovation and there are some incredibly fascinating things happening broadly in healthcare that I think can all at least have the potential to play a role in the large solution, but I certainly believe in private sector.

Steve Grzanich: Yeah. At the very basic level with, I think, with the Affordable Care Act did was even for people who were not sick, or are not sick, they started going to the doctor. They started getting a check up and seeing their … Gauging their health. That has to be a good thing.

Cathy Kenworthy: I couldn’t agree more.

Steve Grzanich: Yeah. Let’s end the interview with this. I want to get a sense of if there’s been a wow moment in your career, or what was it that Oprah always liked to call it? That yow moment, or that yes moment. What would that be and what could you share with our listeners?

Cathy Kenworthy: Sure. I’ve benefited from the opportunity to do a lot of different things in my career and it always comes down to the moment of personal connection, the moment … The sense of an individual feeling like something more is possible in their life than was true before I had an opportunity to engage with that person. There was a really powerful testimonial that we received from an individual that we worked with in … Actually works in a senior living nursing home organization. This woman’s name is Ronda and what she talked about in her testimonial was the identification of health issues that she hadn’t been aware of and the way our team helped her make changes in her health. The phrase that has always stuck with me, and this is a couple years ago, is that she said, “She learned she was worth fighting for.” The power of that statement, that she learned that she was worth fighting for, and her testimonial was about trying to encourage others to believe that they’re worth fighting for, that their health is worth fighting for, was such a powerful expression and it’s one that I hope we can continue to live up to.

Steve Grzanich: Yeah, that’s something that I might use when I wake up tomorrow morning.

Cathy Kenworthy: Yeah.

Steve Grzanich: Yeah, very nice. Cathy, good to meet you and good luck.

Cathy Kenworthy: Thank you, Steve.

Steve Grzanich: Cathy Kenworthy is the CEO of Interactive Health based in Schaumburg. We’re going to continue our conversation with Cathy after the bell and we’ll post it to our podcast of The Opening Bell later this morning at You can check more out about Interactive Health online at