Work-site wellness programs

ANN ARBOR---They're springtime rituals with names that speak a language of their own: walk-a-thons, bike-to-work week, Dump-Your-Plump month, walk-at-lunch week.

These week-long and month-long programs reflect an employers commitment to work-place wellness programs, albeit an annual commitment, and it's a commitment that has increasingly become a year-round part of the work place for thousands of employers, said D.W. Edington, director of the Health Management Research Center (HMRC) at the University of Michigan. Edington will address the economic benefits of work-place wellness programs on March 21 during the research center's 20th annual Wellness in the Workplace Conference in Ann Arbor.

"Corporations now see health management programs as the only long-term alternative to the continuing escalation of medical care costs. Nearly 60 percent of all companies and 95 percent of large companies have programs designed to encourage individuals to take some responsibility for their own health.

"There is greater return from investment in preventing healthy people from slipping into poor health behaviors than by trying to make chronically sick people well. Individuals benefit in terms of less pain and suffering and a higher quality of life. The corporation benefits in terms of less medical care costs and greater productivity," Edington said.

Employers were first introduced to the concept of investing in health promotion programs in the 1970s. By the 1980s, employers were spending $5 per employee on work-place wellness programs and today they're shelling out $60 per employee for year-round programs that range from smoking cessation programs to lessons in warding off stress.

The cost: 1 percent-2 percent of the typical medical care costs.

Work-place wellness programs have caught on. They are more than a trend, more than an experimental program of employers who know they can trim health care costs and improve productivity by providing an envi

Contact: Janet Mendler
University of Michigan

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