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U.S. Companies Embrace Wellness Programs

Posted: October 6, 2006

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Survey data show that more large employers are offering programs to improve employee health and productivity. Seventy-five percent offered a "health promotion" program in 2005 or 2006, up from 56 percent in 2003, according to survey results released last December by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health.

Nearly three out of four employers (72 percent) are sponsoring health-risk appraisals to measure individual employees' health risks and behaviors. And 40 percent are engaging "personal health coaches," health professionals who can help, say, an employee with diabetes manage their diet, exercise and drug regimens.

At the same time, corporate America and public health leaders are grappling to understand which particular interventions or combinations of programs and incentives yield the greatest return on investment.

"There has not been a tremendous amount of high quality research in this area," said Doug Evans, director of the Center for Health Promotion Research at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

But there are a number of efforts under way to learn what works. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for one, is sponsoring a series of studies to evaluate worksite efforts to prevent and control obesity.