Health promotion ROI better when targeting staff at risk

Health assessments help firms target at-risk employees

Comprehensive workplace wellness programs not only lower health-care and insurance costs, they also decrease absenteeism and improve performance and productivity.

Though any wellness and fitness promotion should have a beneficial impact on an organization’s bottom line, conducting health assessments enables organizations to identify at-risk employees and develop targeted wellness and fitness strategies that result in even higher returns on investment.

A study conducted in Nova Scotia by the Atlantic Health and Wellness Institute, Aventis Pharma and Atlantic Blue Cross Care demonstrated that for every dollar spent on a health promotion program designed to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, $1.64 was saved, with returns as high as $3.35 for smokers and close to $4 for a limited number of blue-collar employees with three to five risk factors.

A two-year review by the DuPont Corporation of its comprehensive health promotion program revealed that at sites where the program was conducted, days lost due to disability dropped by 14 per cent among blue-collar employees compared to a 5.8 per cent decline in the control group.

Scientific evidence suggests that physical fitness and prevention are effective ways to decrease the risk of heart disease in the workplace and are potentially valuable disease-management tools.

This is particularly true for highly prevalent medical conditions that currently result in substantial direct and indirect costs. A number of studies have provided evidence of lower medical and insurance costs for participants in workplace health promotion programs, particularly programs involving exercise.

An assessment of nearly 46,000 DuPont employees found that those with unhealthy weight had 21 per cent higher medical and insurance costs, smokers had 14 to 20 per cent higher costs, workers with high blood pressure had 12 per cent higher costs, and those who are physically inactive incurred 10 per cent higher costs.

Multiple risk factors increased medical costs sharply for heart disease and stroke. Projected to the total company workforce, preventable illness was estimated to cost DuPont more than $118 US million per year.

The Bank of America conducted a health promotion program for retirees using a risk assessment questionnaire, self-care books and other mailed materials. They spent $30 US per person. Insurance claims were reduced an average of $164 US per year in this group while they increased $15 US for the control group.

Since the company was able to document significant changes in risk behaviour, it anticipated even greater savings in future years.

Coca Cola reported a reduction in health-care claims as a result of an exercise program, saving $500 US per employee per year for the employees who joined the fitness program.

Compelling evidence is emerging that a sizable portion of the billions of dollars currently spent by employers on health-related costs is preventable with workplace health promotion programming.

Well-planned, comprehensive health promotion programs have been shown to be cost-effective, especially when the health promotion programming is matched to the specific health problems employees identified through health assessments and screenings.

Lydia Makrides is president of Creative Wellness Solutions, an evidence-based organization based in Halifax that offers workplace wellness solutions. She is also the director of the Atlantic Health and Wellness Institute, the research arm of Creative Wellness Solutions.

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