Feature Article - November/December 2012

Be Well, and Prosper

Using Incentives to Promote Good Health

By Rick Dandes


At a time when organizations are faced with tough decisions about the rising growth in health care spending, there has been a significant increase in interest in promoting a healthy lifestyle and implementing corporate wellness incentive programs designed to contain direct medical costs, such as disability claims and work-related injuries.

"This is especially true in the United States, which is ranked 45th in life expectancy, and because our overall health status is in decline," said Michelle M. Smith, vice president, business development, OC Tanner, Salt Lake City, Utah. A good portion of these dismal results can be attributed to our focus on treating rather than preventing chronic diseases, she added.

The number of employees with excess body fat, poor diets, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles has risen to unprecedented levels in the nation, and that's not good news for employers. This unhealthy U.S. workforce (as measured by body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and tobacco and alcohol use) is costing employers an average of $623 per employee annually, according to the Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index.

So, is it any surprise when human resource leaders say they are greatly concerned that health care costs could soon exceed the cost of wages in their organizations? "This scenario, they tell me, would be an unsustainable proposition," Smith said.

Meanwhile, the same study reports that approximately 33 percent of American workers suffer from symptoms of depression, 25 percent smoke, 20 percent experience difficulty sleeping and are treated for high blood pressure, 15 percent have high levels of cholesterol, and nearly 50 percent have not exercised in over a month.

The number of employees with excess body fat, poor diets, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles has risen to unprecedented levels in the nation, and that's not good news for employers.

Full-time workers who are overweight or obese and also have other chronic health conditions (such as having been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or leg) miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared to healthy workers, and that results in an estimated annual cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.