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Do workplace wellness programs work?

(Los Angeles Times) A series of studies … looked broadly at the efficacy of employer wellness programs. One study concluded that employers might save money on one aspect of health care but spend it on another… The study found that fewer employees were hospitalized, which certainly saved money on hospital costs. But those savings were offset by higher amounts spent on outpatient doctor visits and prescription drugs.
In a second study, UCLA-led researchers reviewed multiple studies examining a variety of conditions targeted by employee wellness programs, including high blood pressure, smoking and obesity. The study raises questions about some basic assumptions of wellness programs. For example, the authors discovered that "a majority of studies showed no significant spending differences between people who used tobacco, had high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, or got inadequate amounts of exercise, compared with other people."
The authors also suggest that while incentives may help get employees off to a good start in making changes, sustaining them is more challenging. In the case of weight-loss programs, incentives helped participants lose weight, but in the long run, they regained it. In 19 trials looking at smoking cessation, only one had significant effects on smoking rates after six months.
For employees, perhaps the most telling red flag from the study is that their employers may be saving money not by making them healthy but rather by shifting health-care costs onto them.
Community: But there are more advantages to a wellness program than health improvements. Besides, it takes time to make big changes.
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Please do not give advice. We can best help each other by telling what works for us, not what we think someone else should do.