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U.S. Companies Embrace Wellness Programs

Posted: October 6, 2006
To arrest rising health-care costs, a growing number of U.S. employers are expanding workplace "wellness" initiatives. Providing workers with tools and incentives to improve their health, the thinking goes, will reduce medical-care costs and boost worker productivity.

Experts say it's a trend that bodes well for employees who are motivated to lose weight, quit smoking, manage a chronic condition or just stay fit.

"Pretty clearly, employers have realized that if they're going to manage benefit costs and manage work loss, they need to get at the underlying health drivers of that -- employee health -- and get at the root causes of health-care utilization and health-care expenditures," said Bruce Kelley, practice leader for data services in the Minneapolis office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a human resources consulting firm.

According to Kelley, employers have been investing much more heavily in wellness services in the last few years. "I've been consulting in this area for 20 years," he noted, "and I've never seen as much activity among employers as I've seen just in the last few years."

Wellness is a broad term that describes the panoply of health-management services that companies offer, from onsite fitness centers and smoking-cessation classes to health-risk appraisals and disease-management programs.