The University Record, March 26, 2001

Wellness programs gaining popularity

From the Wellness in the Workplace Program

They’re springtime rituals with names that speak a language of their own: walk-a-thons, bike-to-work week, walk-at-lunch week.

Such week- and month-long programs reflect employers’ commitment to work-place wellness programs—a commitment that has increasingly become a year-round part of the work place for thousands of employers, says D.W. Edington, director of the Health Management Research Center (HMRC). Edington is a professor of kinesiology and past director of the Division of Kinesiology.

“Corporations now see health management programs as the only long-term alternative to the continuing escalation of medical care costs,” he says. 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 lower medical care costs and greater productivity,” Edington says.

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. Today, they’re spending $60 per employee—1 percent–2 percent of typical medical care costs—for year-round programs that range from smoking cessation programs to lessons in coping with stress.

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 environment where employees remain healthy.

Employees benefit from the programs’ focus on exercise, proper nutrition and relaxation. Employers like the programs because happier, healthier employees are more productive and cost less.

HMRC research shows that work-place wellness programs save employers $80–$225 per employee per year in medical care costs and an equal amount in productivity gains.

“Work-site health management programs are part of the new way to do health care in America,” Edington says. “Everyone benefits, and it is truly one of the classic win-win situations for all the stakeholders.”

The HMRC is a health, wellness and prevention research laboratory established in 1976 within the Division of Kinesiology. HMRC researchers and consultants have assessed the health status of more than 2 million workers and have worked with more than 1,000 businesses.

For more information, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~hmrc.