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August 31, 2001
It's Proven: Wellness Programs Pay Off
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ce the mid-1980s, employers have been paying for everything from fitness centers to blood pressure screenings because they helped reduce health insurance premiums.

Now, a new study shows that such wellness programs can also reduce the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries, cutting down on lost work time and improving productivity, USA Today reports.

"Up until now, the focus has been on the medical side, on reducing medical costs. But having healthy employees is a double win," said Shirley Musich of the University of Michigan's Health Management Research Center.

Musich was the lead researcher on a four-year study of more than 3,300 longtime Xerox employees, published in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

As USA Today notes, the study found that those who participated in the company's health-risk appraisal program made far fewer workers' compensation claims for on-the-job injuries. The appraisal program is a key part of the company's wellness offerings, evaluating the workers' health risks in areas such as weight, blood pressure and stress.

And when employees did get hurt on the job, those who had participated in the health appraisal cost far less in workers' compensation expenses than their counterparts, suggesting their injuries were less severe.

"If you're more fit, if your weight is under control, you're going to be more flexible. If you feel better, you're going to be more alert," Musich said.

Christiana Care Health System in Delaware provides its workers with a health-risk profile, sends out reminder letters for mammograms and prostate cancer checks, and offers a $100 reimbursement for joining a gym.

"When people are exercising and healthy, they are generally happier," said Chris Collins, director of employee health for Christiana Care. "Nursing, in particular, is a very physically demanding job. To keep them active and fit is going to prolong their ability to function as a nurse."

USA Today gave some examples of how employers are encouraging healthier lifestyles.

Tom Luce, a physician assistant with Christiana Care, said he tries to work out in the Wilmington Hospital fitness center whenever he is there. Besides the convenience, the in-house center saves him money, he told the newspaper.

"The cost for a full membership at a gym or the YMCA is about $450. It's only $120 here, plus you get the reimbursement as an employee, so that's another incentive," he said.

Nationwide, an estimated 90 percent of all businesses with 50 or more employees have some kind of wellness program.

But getting employees to participate is a problem for many companies.

Some employers resort to giveaways. At Christiana Care, for example, employees who track their exercise activity can get awards such as a pedometer or warm-up jacket.

To view the USA Today story, click here.
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