When a recent study published in JAMA on a workplace wellness program came out, headlines proclaimed "Employee Wellness Programs Yield Little Benefit, Study Shows" (NYT, April 16, 2019); "Rigorous new study of employee wellness programs suggests they may not be very effective" (TheVerge.com, April 16, 2019): and "Workplace wellness programs may help people change certain behaviors but do little to improve overall" (MedicalXpress.com).
It's just one more time that a limited study with limited results is made to sound as if its conclusions apply across the board. The result? It ends up wrongly discrediting an incredibly powerful public health initiative - company-sponsored wellness programs.
The flaws: In this evaluation of a wellness program the researchers looked at employees in a warehouse company (BJ's) over only 18 months. The wellness program was limited to asking participating workers to fill out a health risk questionnaire, have some medical tests such as blood pressure and blood glucose, and take up to eight classes on topics such as nutrition and exercise.
Dr. Mike's experience working with various types of companies that adopted the Cleveland Clinic's Healthy Choice model for their wellness program has shown that, if structured correctly and sustained for at least three years, there are impressive results for employees who participate and a huge return on investment for the company.
The Facts: Using well-designed programs on nutrition, physical activity, smoking cessation and stress and weight management, many employees can avoid, eliminate or reduce their risks for chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Management of chronic diseases accounts for 75 to 85% of health care costs in the U.S. Fortunately, smart lifestyle choices can prevent or reverse 80 to 90% of these chronic diseases! So it's very likely that voluntary programs that effectively upgrade healthy living habits of employees and their dependents can have far-reaching economic and health benefits.
At Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic they've evaluated the outcomes of their Healthy Choice program over 10 years working with 101,000 employees and dependents. Here are examples of the benefits of this program:
1. The program has slashed the number of employee sick days, and that's saved the clinic more than $7 million a year in worker replacement costs.
2. From 2008-2018 the average weight for a clinic employee who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall decreased by 5 pounds (the average American gained 15!). We know that reducing body weight by 5-10% slashes your risk for diabetes, boosts good HDL cholesterol, and reduces the risk of several cancers.
3. The clinic rewards employees who voluntarily hit the six outcome measures that are the goals of the Healthy Choice program (see below) with a very substantial reduction in health insurance premiums ($1,400). An amazing 43.6% of program participants now meet those outcomes, compared to 6% in 2008.
Solutions: Around 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer programs in smoking cessation, weight management and/or behavioral or lifestyle changes. That's great. But to reduce medical costs and chronic health problems most effectively, these efforts need to be supported by a nationwide voluntary program that incentivizes employees, as the clinic does, to pursue "6+2" normals. They are:
1. Blood pressure of less than 130/85.
2. BMI from 21 to 29.9, or a waist circumference of less than half your height.
3. Fasting blood glucose of less than 107 or an A1C of less than 6.4.
4. LDL cholesterol level of less than 100 if no risk factor for disease, or less than 70 if at risk for diabetes or heart disease.
5. No cotinine (tobacco end-product) in urine.
6. Completion of a stress-management program or control of asthma.
PLUS: Seeing your primary care provider regularly and getting all recommended vaccinations.
We sincerely hope that every employee and every company pay attention to these important facts. The future health of YOU, of our society's ability to provide quality medical care to all and our economy depend on it.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.