Wellness programs have become close to ubiquitous in the employer world. They are promoted both for the perceived effect in improving health and productivity and because they might reduce overall health spending. There are many anecdotal studies from specific companies about how much wellness programs save them and there is a growing body of better quality research. A review in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine examines both the current evidence and the quality of research underpinning that evidence. (JOEM Article) As might be expected, comparisons and aggregation of data are hindered by non-standard research designs and methodology.
The authors found 44 relevant studies from the period 2000 to 2010, of which 32 reported at least one favorable cost outcome and the remainder, negative or mixed results. The authors identified 7 primary types of wellness programs, with a varying number of studies on each, and without standard features across the programs, so attributing success to a specific program characteristic is difficult. Most studies were not viewed as high quality, for example, in the health promotion and disease prevention category only 2 out of ten studies were judged to be methodologically and executionally sound. Based on the generally average or poor quality of the studies, the authors conclude that it is too soon to conclude that scientific evidence supports a positive, neutral or negative cost effect from health promotion programs.