Why didn’t BJ’s wellness program produce healthier results?
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.
- Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcome – JAMA
- Employee Wellness Programs Yield Little Benefit, Study Shows – The New York Times
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?