Big thinking at Humana is leading to smaller waistlines across Northern Kentucky and the Tristate.

The health care company’s incentive-based corporate wellness program, HumanaVitality, rewards Humana insurance cardholders who demonstrate a commitment to improving their personal wellness.

Corporate wellness isn’t a new concept, but as obesity rates across the nation continue to skyrocket, it’s more important than ever.

According to Jeff Blunt, regional strategic communications manager at Humana, the cost of health care has reached its tipping point.

“A great deal of Americans eat too much, smoke too much, and sit too much,” he says. “It’s a recipe for disaster, and employers are truly hitting the wall when it comes to paying for the health care of their employees.”

The only way Americans can change the costs of health care, according to Blunt, is through leading healthier lives, and it can be accomplished through improved decision-making in terms of eating and exercise habits.

That’s where HumanaVitality enters the picture.

Members earn Vitality Points by engaging in physical activities, attending health-related classes, and participating in a sports league, among other ways. Work out at the gym once a day? That’s 15 points. Join the company softball team? Add 350 points. Just got your yearly physical? There’s another 400 points.

Points are collected and used to buy prizes at the HumanaVitality Mall — things like iTunes gift cards, sporting goods, name brand clothing, and even hotel stays.

“It’s like a frequent flyer program, but with healthy living techniques,” Blunt says.

According to Blunt, HumanaVitality is unique to other wellness programs because of its measurable results, rather than basing results on self-reported data. Participants have the opportunity to wear pedometers and heart rate monitors that upload results to the user’s personal HumanaVitality webpage, and physicians report to Humana with their weight, cholesterol, heart rate, and other health-related figures.

The figures are then measured and a Vitality Age is assigned.

“This spurs conversation in the office and around the workplace,” Blunt says. “People start talking about their Vitality Age, which means they’re talking about their health. Social interaction like this drives healthy behaviors.”

And interaction is key when it comes to one of Humana’s latest developments: a partnership with video game developer Ubisoft. HumanaVitality members can earn points for rewards by exercising using Ubisoft’s fitness game, “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved,” on the Xbox 360’s Kinect system.

“We’re constantly looking for new ways to help people earn points and measure their activity,” Blunt says of the program, which is even exploring the possibility of including similar rewards-based incentives in its Medicaid and Medicare services.

He calls HumanaVitality a long-term approach to improving health with short-term results. Sure, a person eating right and exercising regularly will immediately feel healthier, but he says more important is the commitment to improving health years down the road.

And involvement in the HumanaVitality program has shown great promise, according to Blunt, with between two and three times the participants of other Humana health and wellness programs in its first full year of availability.

He says HumanaVitality is one of the first out of the box, but part of an emerging trend toward creating incentives and rewarding healthy decision-making.