Wellness programmes largely a waste of time, claims US report

CranberryMuffinAccording to press agency Reuters, a long-awaited report on workplace wellness programmes, which has yet to be published, delivers a blow to the increasingly popular efforts by employers to address the waistline of employees as well as the bottom line of their businesses. According to a report by researchers at RAND Corp in the US, the now commonplace corporate sanctioned wellness programmes that encourage employees to become healthier and reduce absenteeism and medical costs only have a modest effect. RAND delivered the analysis to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services last Autumn as part of a Government review ahead of new legislation.

The report of 600 employers with more than 50 staff  found that people who participate in wellness programs lose an average of only one pound a year for three years.In addition, participation “was not associated with significant reductions in total cholesterol level” and while there is some evidence that smoking-cessation programs work, they do so only “in the short term.”

Although US firms are attracted to wellness programmes by the desire to cut absenteeism and health insurance costs, the RAND report’s conclusions about the financial benefits are also clear. In theory, the programs should reduce medical spending as employees become healthier and thereby avoid expensive conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. In fact, workers who participated in a wellness programme had healthcare costs averaging $2.38 less per month than non-participants in the first year of the program and $3.46 less in the fifth year. The researchers conclude that such modest savings were not significant, and could have been due to chance and not the actions of the US’s $6billion wellness industry.

Workplace wellness did not catch warning signs of disease or improve health enough to prevent emergencies. “We do not detect statistically significant decreases in cost and use of emergency department and hospital care” as a result of the programs, RAND found.

The RAND report was mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reform law known as Obamacare. Reuters claims it read the report when it was posted online by RAND on Friday before being taken down because the federal authorities were not ready to release it, according to the press agency.