Not all workplace wellness programs are created equal

December 16, 2014

The discussion continues on the impact of wellness programs with one of the latest articles running in the December 13 edition of the Chicago Tribune, casting a critical eye on particular benefits  of workplace wellness. The piece cited several recent studies including recent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that 71% of companies think wellness programs are very effective or somewhat effective at controlling health care costs. In fact, the responding employers indicated that it’s their most favored strategy.

In this article, Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics and a commissioner for the Vitality Institute, cautions against drawing overarching conclusions based on only one piece of research and notes the importance of using outcome-based incentives.

At Vitality, we continue to maintain that not all workplace wellness programs are created equal, thus it’s important to avoid sweeping generalizations and to rely on programs that are actively engaged in research and measurement.

As an example, a recent Fast Company article highlighted research led by the Vitality Institute’s Dr. Katherine Tryon and Dr. Derek Yach. The study was originally published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and found that the office environment is the weak link in American health care efforts. However, it’s also one of the easiest to strengthen, providing a unique platform for encouraging healthier habits.

Armed with this type of data, Vitality continues to build evidence around what works best for employers in developing the most impactful wellness programs. And we continue to find that the success or failure of these efforts depends largely on how they are structured, implemented and what the objectives are.

The challenge therefore lies in using this evidence to help clients understand that while there is no silver bullet, prevention and health promotion efforts DO work, and it’s our nation’s best bet at improving population health while reducing health care costs.

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