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U.S. Companies Embrace Wellness Programs

Posted: October 6, 2006

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In one study, published in the September/October 2005 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, CDC and RTI researchers found that obesity boosts employers' costs, including medical expenditures and absenteeism, by $460 to $2,500 per obese employee per year. They estimated that the cost of obesity at a firm with 1,000 employees is about $285,000 per year.

In March, the National Business Group on Health issued 10 recommendations for promoting prevention in the workplace. Overall, it concluded that without the support of top-level management, companies cannot convey "the importance to employees of caring for themselves."

Some employers are using incentives to get workers on the wellness bandwagon. You might qualify for a lower health insurance premium, say, if you stop smoking, or you could earn a $25 gift certificate for completing a health-risk appraisal.

The use of incentives will continue, Evans predicted. However, he believes employers must do a better job of promoting the benefits of health, much like anti-tobacco advocates did by portraying a non-smoking lifestyle as cool, hip and fun.

"Maybe that kind of technique can be effective in obesity," he offered. "Can you make it cool to be healthy weight and not to be fat?"