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Wellness Programs Can Reduce Health Risks, Study Finds
 

By Stephen Miller  10/14/2010
 

Wellness and health-promotion programs based on the clinical practice of preventive medicine were able to achieve measurable health risk reduction in just one year, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Population Health Management.

The study, The Impact of The Prevention Plan on Employee Health Risk Reduction, analyzed changes in 15 health risk measures among a cohort of 2,606 employees from multiple U.S. employer groups who completed a baseline health risk appraisal, blood tests and biometric screening in 2008, with a reassessment of the cohort in 2009.

“The U.S. is facing a severe health care cost crisis today—in large part caused by an increasing burden of chronic illness. Lurking below the surface in society are the true drivers of health care cost increases: health risks,” said Ronald Loeppke, M.D., vice-chairman of wellness-program provider U.S. Preventive Medicine and lead author of the study. “More and more Americans are succumbing to preventable lifestyle risks that erode the quality and length of their lives,” resulting in an increasing use of medical services that places an economic burden on society.

The trend of health care cost inflation is unsustainable, Loeppke noted. Since 1999, average premiums for family health insurance coverage have increased 131 percent, according to a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation survey. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 75 percent of health care costs stem from preventable chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.

Moreover, health risks not only drive up health care utilization, they also are a drain on business profitability, with employees in poor health more likely to be absent from work and less productive on the job.

Study Highlights

U.S. Preventive Medicine's wellness program, known as The Prevention Plan, is built around a series of interventional steps to drive employees' awareness of their personal health risks, plus a variety of interactive, Internet-based and health coaching resources to empower employees to improve their health. In addition, the program has yielded strong participation and engagement rates when supported by a culture of health, frequent communications and significant incentives provided by the employer.

The study of program participants found that:

After one year nearly half (42 percent) of the approximately 2,600 plan participants experienced a decrease in the number of high health risks they faced, with 64 percent of high risk participants lowering their risk status and 87 percent of low risk participants maintaining their health status.

Among the high risk health factors that underwent the greatest declines were: blood pressure (43 percent), fasting blood sugar (31 percent), stress (25 percent), alcohol consumption (24 percent) and cholesterol (23 percent).

“These results are compelling and demonstrate a significant reduction of employee health risks within one year," said Loeppke. "This is scientific proof that wellness works when structured on the pillars of prevention.”

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Technology for Promoting Fitness
A web site that allows employees to upload information on their physical activity—as well as health data, gathered at on-site monitoring kiosks—promotes healthy behavior, said Reshma Patel of the American Diabetes Association.
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