Sunday, June 23, 2013

Do Wellness Programs Work, and If Not , Why Not?
To wish to be well is part of becoming well.
Seneca (4 B.C.  to 65 A.D.)
Wellness, wellness, wellness – the mantra goes.  Lose weight, exercise, eat right,  consume fruits and vegetables,  avoid sweets and salt,  lower your cholesterol, and you will feel swell, and you will be well.
Wellness sells.  Just ask merchants who sell weight-losing diets,   nutritional supplements, vitamins,  and organic and gluten-free food.  I am all for corporate wellness programs.
I agree with this thinking and most of these developments.  It’s a good thing Americans are so health conscious. This consciousness accounts for much of our increased longevity.  
I was astonished, then, to read this statement by two well-known wellness consultants, Al Lewis , author of Cracking Health Costs: How to Cut Your Company’s Health Costs and Provide Employees Better Care ( Wiley, 2013) and Vik Khana, who writes the Khana on Health Blog.
“There’s only one problem. Workplace wellness programs don’t work.  Such programs, which have been around for more than two decades, are ineffective at reducing costs, lack support in the medical literature, are unpopular enough to require incentives, and occasionally are even harmful to employees.”
How could this be? Everybody knows wellness is the right thing to do. Everybody knows you need to know how to get well and stay well.  Every worker wants lower premiums if they are healthy.
So what’s the problem?  Our two consultants tell us wellness programs produce negligible health improvements,  the programs cost more than they save, employees do not always provide reliable information,  employees who should participate are  often the ones who don’t need to , and wellness programs  generate unnecessary tests, the performance of which costs too much and may cause harm.
But in the process, the programs create such desirable amenities as on-site gyms, walking tracks,  corporate sports teams, healthy cafeteria food, and free nicotine patches. 
But, sad to say,  corporate wellness programs do not seem to carry over to life outside the company.  Wellness in the workplace, or talk about wellness in the doctor’s office, do not seem to carry over into the home.  Why not?  It may be because people resent others interfering with their private lifes, or gathering personal information that may be used against them.
But on a more cosmic scale, it may be because employees are human, and as humans, they usually revert to life-long habits and pleasures.  As Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said, “We are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated  by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasures.”  Which is another way saying, “Humans will be humans.”  I wish it were otherwise, but doing the right thing will pay off in the long run.
Tweet:  Corporate wellness programs are a $6 billion industry but signs of effectiveness are rare. Still, they are worth a try
Source:  “Here Comes ObamaCare’s “Workplace Wellness, “ Wall Street Journal,  June 21, 2013.

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