Why didn’t BJ’s wellness program produce healthier results?

Discussion
Photo: BJ's Wholesale Club
Apr 17, 2019
George Anderson

Workplace wellness programs have become popular over the years with the promise that they encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles, thereby reducing absenteeism and associated medical coverage costs. A new randomized clinical study of workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club is now raising questions as to whether wellness programs, even if they result in behavioral changes, are worth the money that employers are investing in them.

The research, published in JAMA, included observation of 32,974 self-reporting workers over 18 months. Workers in randomized treatment and control worksites participated in eight different assessment modules focused on “nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction and related topics implemented by registered dietitians at the treatment worksites.”

Participants in both groups self-reported at about the same percentages when it came to making lifestyle changes, such as exercising more. The research found very little change in measurables, such as blood pressure and sugar. It also did not find a significant decrease in the money being paid for medical costs.

The study’s authors, Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and Dr. Zirui Song, a health policy researcher at Harvard Medical School, acknowledged having obtained incomplete data on some measures. In the final analysis, however, the authors concluded that the findings supported businesses tempering “expectations about the financial return on investment that wellness programs can deliver in the short term.”

Despite the findings, the authors are not calling for companies to scrap their wellness programs.

Dr. Baicker told The New York Times that lifestyle changes being made by workers are a “necessary first step” to achieving better long-term outcomes.

Dr. Song said they need to look at outcomes over a longer period of time to see if health outcomes and cost savings improve. The researchers are currently in the process of analyzing three years of data from the BJ’s program.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do the JAMA study results cause you to question the investments employers are making in their wellness programs? Do you think the bottom-line value of these programs will prove out over the long term?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Whether wellness programs are 'profitable' investments is not the only measure of success."
"It’s not a financial question, it’s an efficacy question, and the data suggests it doesn’t work."
"...anything a company can do to improve education and encourage health changes is a good thing. In the long run, it can only help make employees healthier and happier."

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5 Comments on "Why didn’t BJ’s wellness program produce healthier results?"


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David Weinand
BrainTrust

It’s irrefutable that exercise and healthy eating provide benefits like lower stress, fewer days lost to illness and sharper mental acuity. Educating workers about these benefits and providing tools to better enable them should still be a priority for companies, regardless of this study. It will pay off.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

There have been plenty of prior studies demonstrating the benefits of wellness in the workplace so employers and employees alike will no doubt continue to promote the benefits into the future. There will only be winners in following this approach.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Whether wellness programs are “profitable” investments is not the only measure of success. It may be difficult to ever measure the true outcomes of wellness programs. However, it is still a good thing for companies to do to instill better eating and exercise habits for their employees. While it is difficult to dramatically change people’s habits, anything a company can do to improve education and encourage health changes is a good thing. In the long run, it can only help make employees healthier and happier.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If the results continue and the results replicate, this will be the death knell for corporate wellness programs. It’s not a financial question, it’s an efficacy question, and the data suggests it doesn’t work. No amount of wishing or rationalizing will help that (he says, pointing to his colleagues above).

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I looked at the JAMA article — something I hope everyone will do for a reason I’m about to go into — and this seems to one of those cases where the headlines aren’t accurate. There WERE changes, they just (1) weren’t in all areas, and (2) didn’t seem to lead to “bottom line” changes (absenteeism, etc.). At the risk of moving the goalposts, or even sounding like an apologist, maybe the problem here was unrealistic expectations. Of course that may be no small problem if the programs have been set up under a cost/benefit analysis and they just made it (under those optimistic assumptions), but at this point it seems like a problem of both small and big: too small a sample to make conclusions about as big a topic as wellness programs.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Whether wellness programs are 'profitable' investments is not the only measure of success."
"It’s not a financial question, it’s an efficacy question, and the data suggests it doesn’t work."
"...anything a company can do to improve education and encourage health changes is a good thing. In the long run, it can only help make employees healthier and happier."

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