Weight loss programs offered by half of employers

RP news wires, Noria Corporation

Watching your weight? So is your employer. A recent survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans found that of those organizations that offer wellness programs, 49 percent offer a weight loss program.


When asked their primary reason for offering a wellness program, the largest proportion of survey respondents, 46 percent, cite controlling health care costs, followed by 35 percent who say they want to help workers enjoy better overall physical health.


“Employers want to control health care costs and are implementing wellness programs under the assumption that it is less expensive to prevent rather than treat most medical conditions,” said Kelli Kolsrud, senior information/research specialist at the International Foundation.

 “Helping employees maintain a healthy weight is one way employers believe they can control health care costs,” said Kolsrud. “Employee weight loss programs have gained popularity in recent years. These programs are often successful because participants have a built in support system. Morning donuts are replaced with fresh fruit, lunch hours are spent walking with colleagues – it’s really about building a culture of wellness that encourages success.”


Wellness initiatives vary in form and complexity from one employer to another.

         Common screening and treatment initiatives are flu shot programs (82 percent), health risk assessments (73 percent) and health screenings (69 percent). Another 60 percent of program sponsors offer smoking cessation programs.

         In the area of fitness and nutrition the most prevalent initiatives include weight loss/management programs (49 percent), wellness competitions such as walking and fitness challenges (48 percent), and healthy food choices in the cafeteria or snack areas (42 percent). About a third of program sponsors offer on-site fitness equipment (33 percent) or off-site fitness programs/subsidies (32 percent).

         Common approaches for disseminating health and wellness information include online resources (61 percent), health fairs (57  percent), nurse advice hotlines (53 percent) and wellness newsletters (52 percent).


Wellness programs are fairly new to most organizations, with 67 percent of respondents indicating their initiatives have been in place for four years or less. Employers report that participation rates for wellness programs are modest and vary by initiative. Few initiatives had participation exceeding half of employees. Health fairs, health screenings and health risk assessments had the highest participation rates.


To encourage employee participation, four-fifths of wellness program sponsors report using some type of incentive. Non-cash incentives (e.g. prizes and raffles) are the most prevalent (39 percent), followed by gift cards (32 percent), cash rewards (22 percent) and insurance premium reductions (22 percent).


Many of the wellness program sponsors are unsure to what extent they benefit from wellness programs, but about half say they benefit through improved worker health and morale.  Interestingly, only 13 percent of the sponsors measure the return on investment (ROI) of their program. For those who do, 78 percent report a positive return, with the majority seeing returns in the range of $1.01 to $4.00 for each dollar spent.


Kolsrud said, “Demonstrating cost savings and quantifying benefits of wellness programs can be challenging. A wellness program is a long-term investment and it may take years of data gathering before positive results are realized.”


The survey, Wellness Programs, Second Edition, includes responses from 586 wellness program sponsors in the U.S. and Canada. There is also a collection of 115 samples of wellness materials including program descriptions, promotional materials and survey instruments.


Wellness Programs, Survey & Sample Series (Item #6610) is published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. It is 801 pages and costs $138 (I.F. Members $55). The publication is available in print (with sample collection on CD) or CD format.  To order, visit www.ifebp.org/books.asp?6610 or contact the Foundation Bookstore at bookstore@ifebp.org or (888) 334-3327, option 4.

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