Employers today are implementing
workplace programs that are designed to promote a culture of wellness. A recent case study allowed experts
to evaluate which wellness programs were
effective, the return on investment for
employers and the overall importance of
wellness programs for companies.
For employers to create a culture of wellness and find effectiveness, they must create awareness and introduce activities that
support wellness and healthy lifestyles,
says Bob VanEck, associate vice president
of Clinical Quality Improvement with
Smart Business spoke to VanEck about
the success of wellness programs and how
solid workplace wellness programs can
contribute to overall employee health and
lower health care costs.
What did the case study evaluate?
For this case study, a group of more than
13,000 employees was introduced to the
wellness culture for an extended period of
time. Not all of the employees chose to
participate. To evaluate the effectiveness of
the wellness programs, experts reviewed
the biometric screening data of the participants. The data measured very basic and
important information of a person’s overall
health, such as glucose levels, cholesterol
levels, blood pressure and weight, and also
evaluated immediate health risks and risk
behaviors. A nurse or health coach was on
hand at the end of the screening to discuss
In this study, experts were also able to
review the claims of the same group of individuals. By comparing the biometric data
and diagnosed conditions from claims,
experts were able to demonstrate to the
group members how their health behaviors
affected the costs of their health care.
What did the results show?
That a person’s weight has a direct impact
on his or her health. Of the general population without diabetes or cardiovascular
conditions, 52 percent of the population
was overweight or obese; for those who
suffered from diabetes or cardiovascular conditions, 83 percent were overweight or
obese. Weight stood out as a key factor in
the health and health care costs, as diabetes
and cardiovascular conditions are two conditions with the highest associated costs.
Another costly set of conditions are
degenerative orthopedic conditions (the
wear and tear of necks, backs and knees).
Weight had an effect on those conditions, as
well. In those people without degenerative
orthopedic disease, 60 percent were over-weight or obese. For those people with
degenerative orthopedic disease, 83 percent
were overweight or obese.
Weight also affects health care costs.
Obese employees cost 71 percent more in
health care costs than those employees with
a healthy weight even if they have the same
health condition. Obese employees have a 27
percent greater overall health care cost even
if they do not have a diagnosed health issue.
There were positives found in the study, as
well. People who reported they were more
physically active had lower costs for chronic conditions. Some conditions are hereditary and cannot be avoided, but this study
showed that with physical activity health
care costs will decrease.
What is the importance of the information
found in this study for those people who manage company health care plans?
Different companies utilize different
plans and change wellness programs as
needed to fit the needs of the employees.
This study demonstrated that there are significant cost savings found in managing
employee weight. In this case, offering
incentives for participation in healthy
behaviors led to more employees with
healthy weight. Such information helps
employers redesign their wellness programs to increase effectiveness.
How can employers present this information
to employees to increase participation and
Celebrate the accomplishments of employees. It doesn’t have to be about completely eliminating health care costs or
eliminating disease completely. Rather, it
should be about creating the healthy culture and maintaining healthy habits.
The culture of wellness takes time to
build. Employers may want to start with
general classes and offer health risk
appraisals. These programs will make
employees aware of healthy and risky
behaviors and create the building blocks
for the wellness foundation and participation. It is important for employers to understand that this is a new era of a culture of
Are there other areas where employers
should focus wellness attention?
Smoking cessation is a great place to
focus. Offering incentives for smoking cessation is also cost effective for employers as
smokers often have high health care costs.
Another area of interest noted in this study
was the importance of healthy coping skills.
Sometimes overeating and smoking are simply coping mechanisms. Employers can
offer programs, classes and incentives, but
they cannot control the way individuals cope
with stress and/or their surroundings.
BOB VANECK is associate vice president of Clinical Quality Improvement with Priority Health. Reach him at (614) 464-8204 or