Today, almost 90 percent of United States employers offer some form of wellness incentive to their employees, according to Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health.
Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will allow companies to offer even more incentives for employees who complete wellness programs. Companies may also choose to increase health care premiums for those employees who choose not to participate.
Businesses hope that providing these incentives will improve productivity, cut costs, and possibly reduce health insurance premiums. The employees benefit by having a structured setting in which to improve their health, considering they are dedicated to the programs.
A research team at Iowa State University has begun a pilot program to monitor employee wellness programs provided by three Iowa manufacturers: The Graphic Edge, Timberline Manufacturing, Inc. and Rosenboom Machine & Tool.
Research assistant Kayli Julander explains, “Americans spend a lot of time at work. If we can make it convenient for the employees to take a healthy lunch and learn how to improve their well-being or go for a walk during lunch, it’s a great opportunity for the employee as well as the employer.”
Julander, along with associate professor of food science and human nutrition Ruth Litchfield, studied 60 employees at each of the three manufacturing companies and gave them health risk appraisals. They examined the employees’ physical, emotional and financial health.
The employees were then divided into a control group, and an intervention group. The members of the intervention group underwent a six month program focusing on nutrition, exercise, finances and stress.
According to preliminary findings, over 80 percent of employees studied were found to be overweight, based on body composition, which compares lean body mass to body fat.
Also, just under 45 percent of the employees had a high to very high risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. These risks were determined by examining the waist to hip ratio of the employees.
It is clear from these results that these employees, and by extrapolation, a great number of employees across the nation, could benefit from a wellness program. If they get financial incentives for completing these programs, the benefits to their health and their pocketbooks could be substantial.
The Iowa State University research team will be back to reassess all three companies in January, to see if there have been any improvements to the employees’ health. The results of the study will help companies determine policies regarding employee health benefits, what type of incentives to offer and health care reform in general.
According to Mike O’Donnell, program director for Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), “while we’re relatively sure helping employees become healthier will improve absenteeism rates, the real question is will it impact health care premiums?”
One thing is certain: with the frighteningly high obesity rates in this country, and the rising number of individuals with heart disease and type 2 diabetes, companies making an effort to improve employee health is certainly a step in the right direction.
-The Alternative Daily