Employer wellness programs don't cut healthcare costs, study suggests

While the workplace wellness industry generates $8 billion in annual revenue, a recent study found little evidence that the programs lower healthcare costs or change employee behavior within a year, according to Scientific American.

Researchers with the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ran a large-scale randomized controlled trial to test how wellness programs affected employee health, well-being, productivity and healthcare spending.

The researchers created a workplace wellness program dubbed iThrive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They randomly assigned some employees to a control group and enrolled others in iThrive, according to Scientific American.

Of the employees enrolled in iThrive, 56 percent completed a health screening and a health risk assessment offered by the program, while 31 percent finished at least one wellness activity. When researchers offered a $100 incentive, screening rates significantly improved, but increasing the incentive to $200 changed the rates only a little.

"One year later, when we compared the control group to the iThrive group, we found that the program didn't lead to healthier employees or reduce healthcare costs," the researchers wrote in Scientific American. "The program's failure to improve health outcomes or reduce costs was likely because employees who were interested in participating in the workplace wellness program were already quite healthy."

For the full report, click here.

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