Wellness programs sound good–encouraging people to eat healthy, exercise, get coaching for chronic diseases, reduce stress, etc. seems like it should improve health status and lower health spending. As with many things, however, the research has been quite mixed, with limited findings of benefit, leading to some discouragement among employers in regard to the value of offering and paying for wellness programs. That is why research is important. Lots of interventions sound good in theory but may not work. The study in Health Affairs evaluates a wellness program implemented at one very large employer, with some worksites randomly selected to participate in the program and others not participating. (HA Article)
After three years, employees in the wellness program had better self-reported health behaviors. But their self-reported health status was no better and clinical markers of health were not significantly different, nor was health care use or spending. Absenteeism and job performance were also unaffected. Wellness programs may have value in focussing employees on their health and health behavior, but they shouldn’t on current evidence be expected to reduce utilization or health spending.