Pension & Benefits News Wellness program did not cut costs, reduce absenteeism, or make participants healthier
Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Wellness program did not cut costs, reduce absenteeism, or make participants healthier

By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff

While wellness plan participants did report significantly higher rates of some positive health behaviors, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that after 18 months, there were no significant effects on clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, or employment outcomes (such as absenteeism, tenure, or job performance).

Researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, and then compared the results with 140 stores that did not offer a wellness program. The warehouse retail company employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 locations during the study. The wellness program that was offered to employees at the 20 locations comprised of eight modules focused on nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and related topics implemented by registered dietitians at the treatment worksites.

After 18 months, the study found that the workers participating in wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior. For instance, workers with access to wellness programs were 8.3 percent more likely to say they engaged in regular exercise than those without access to a wellness plan. In addition, those with access were 13.8 percent more likely to say they actively managed their weight.

However, study found that the wellness plan participation had no significant effects on other prespecified outcomes: 27 self-reported health outcomes and behaviors (including self-reported health, sleep quality, and food choices); 10 clinical markers of health (including cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index); 38 medical and pharmaceutical spending and utilization measures; and three employment outcomes (absenteeism, job tenure, and job performance).


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