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Posted on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

University of Michigan wellness pioneer Dee Edington launches startup

By Nathan Bomey


Dee Edington launched startup Edington Associates, which is currently based at the University of Michigan Technology Transfer Office's Venture Accelerator in a former Pfizer building.

Angela J. Cesere |

Health and wellness industry pioneer Dee Edington of the University of Michigan has come to a determination that naturally startles some of his industry colleagues.

Rather than urging people to improve their health by, say, losing weight, he’s laid out a simple, more realistic goal: Don’t get worse. Stay where you are.

That philosophy underpins his new company, a consultancy called Edington Associates, which is based at U-M’s Venture Accelerator business incubator at the former Pfizer site in northern Ann Arbor.

Edington, director of U-M’s Health Management Research Center, said he’s already secured a $1 million investment from global health insurance provider Cigna to fund his consultancy.

The firm also has secured access to data-based tools developed at the university, making Edington Associates an official U-M-licensed startup. He’s recruited three employees, including Mary Jo Cartwright, a former executive with Johnson & Johnson’s Ann Arbor-based HealthMedia division.

Edington said the company’s business plan calls for growth to about 30 to 40 employees within three years.

“I wanted to start this new company because I think we have a new way to do health management in the 21st century,” Edington said. “We lost the 20th century. We don’t have fewer people with diabetes, obesity” and other conditions associated with unhealthy behaviors.

“More doctors, more nurses, more hospitals will not get us out of this situation,” he said. “The only thing we’re doing with costs is going up.”

Corporate clients — armed with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that more than 75 percent of health care costs are tied to chronic diseases — are gradually beginning to realize that they can save costs by improving their employees’ health.

But Edington Associates cites data showing that simply maintaining an employee’s health can save up to $1,500 a year compared with the average costs associated with an employee whose health continues to decline.

That’s why Edington is adamant that political leaders like Gov. Rick Snyder, who has made healthy living a centerpiece of his health care policy, must acknowledge that convincing Michigan people to improve their health is unlikely.

Instead, the state should start by getting people to stop gaining weight, Edington said.

“If we wouldn’t gain weight, we’d be (millions of) pounds lighter” next year than the state would have been, Edington said.

Edington said he’s already secured a list of corporate clients such as Adventist Health System in Florida, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and a manufacturing company in California.

He said the consulting philosophy he’s employing includes:

--A “gap analysis” to determine how to keep employees healthy over time.

--A focus on “helping the healthy people stay healthy” by encouraging existing positive actions. “Let people learn from their strengths, not beating them up from what they’re doing wrong,” Edington said.

--Providing monthly metrics to corporate leaders so that they can track their employees’ wellbeing. Edington’s research shows that employees who participate in wellness programs will miss 1.2 fewer days a year.

“His company will not only help employers strengthen their workplace health and wellness business strategy, it will also contribute further to the body of knowledge related to health improvement,” Cigna Vice President for U.S. Products Jackie Aube said in a statement.

As a household name in his field, Edington is prone to making sweeping statements about the role that wellness can play in revitalizing America.

“My idea would be that we would have healthy people in this country where we could put most of the hospitals out of business,” he said. “And then I could turn hospitals into low-rent housing for seniors.”

He makes no apologies for his ambition.

“I say if you’re not arrogant, don’t come to Ann Arbor,” he said with a smile. “That’s part of the culture here.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


5c0++ H4d13y

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:15 a.m.

"Don't get worse" isn't very empowering.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 3:24 a.m.

He presents simple platitudes to deal with complex issues. He belittles the reality that people who do everthing right can still contract serious diseases. Slim people who work out can get cancer and can have congenital heart defects. These are just two of many areas in which we need to spend more money on research. A recent, public example was Steve Jobs of Apple. He wasn't fat. He was active. I fear that people with serious diseases will be blamed for diseases even if they did everything the "right" way. We need to spend money on more medical research to come up with less toxic and more effective treatments for diseases. Sure, obesity and sedentary living aren't good for anyone's health and needs to be addressed, but there's no need to spend money on this consulting firm, when the money is sorely needed to increase the number of real solutions for real diseases. Occasionally, the press emphasizes improved treatment for one segment of those with a certain disease, but the implication that this helps all people with each of the many types of cancer is a false sense of progress. Also, with increasing numbers of baby boomers becoming seniors over the coming years, I doubt we'll have enough extra hospital beds to turn into low cost housing for seniors. If there's more need for assisted living over time it won't be low cost. Plus fewer seniors will be able to pay for such assistance, partly due to the artificially low interest rates received on a lifetime of savings. I've seen other so-called business ideas praised in the local press not meet their goals and I'm guessing this idea won't either. How much is this guy getting paid for this notion that flauts reality. I hope a cancer researcher and others grace this site with their comments.

Somewhat Concerned

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Lots of vague platitudes and buzz words like "gap analysis" and "let people learn from their strengths" but no hint at what this startup actually will do to ameliorate a complex set of motivations and problems that other, more thoughtful and substantial people have been working on for years. But, if you can get cheap space and a big company to foot the bill for some fun spitting out sound bites like "turn hospitals into low-rent housing," why not. Given all the substantive work going on at the U, it is surprising that it gives valuable space (assuming the space is valuable) to one like this. Is he a close friend of someone with influence at the U?. Might be worth checking out that part of the story.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:21 a.m.

Somewhat Concerned, a rather short Google search would easily produce more content on his history and expertise than this article can hope to provide. The vague platitudes and buzz words are hallmarks of both marketing and the standard reporting we can expect from both as well as its target audience. Geez, you'd think you Ann Arborites would be all for reusing data (green), increasing health, increasing workplace satisfaction and making money! Oh I forgot, complaining is high on the list too.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

What's wrong with you Concerned? The purpose of such businesses is not to resolve problems, but to make money. Everybody involved gets rich off the U's research and Cigna generates profits to fund political contributions to conservatives. As Mr. Wellness said: "I say if you're not arrogant, don't come to Ann Arbor," he said with a smile. "That's part of the culture here." A perfect example for this culture.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

I'm not sure what the concern is...He used U research, but the consulting company is funded by Cigna. As for vague platitudes and lack of details - let's keep in mind this is a business. It wants to help companies save money and people's health - but it's also there to make money. How many startups out there, using private money, say - &quot;Here's what our goals are and here are our business secrets and plans&quot;? They're duty is to sell their methods to clients, not to readers of <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

He's right. Only 3% of obese patients can lose weight AND keep it off. Also, fatness and fitness are not mutually exclusive. A fat, fit person is healthier than a thin, unfit one. While fit and lean may be ideal, the majority of Americans are overweight and the proportion of the population that is overweight is projected to increase, despite all the attention on this phenomenon.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 10:50 a.m.

The first step should be to get all the unhealthy and toxic additives out of the food chain.