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How Well Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work?

If you want to be healthier in the coming year, joining your company's workplace wellness program might do the trick -- if your employer is offering the right type of program.

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(Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae/Flickr)

There are two kinds of workplace wellness programs: disease-management, and lifestyle-management. Disease-management programs focus on monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes. Lifestyle-management programs offer employees help quitting smoking or finding time and motivation to work out. A recent study by nonprofit research organization RAND Corp. found that the former program was more successful than the latter.

Over the course of seven years, researchers monitored PepsiCo's Healthy Living workplace wellness program.

"The study, published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs, found that the disease-management program alone resulted in a cost reduction of $136 per month and a 29 percent drop in hospital admissions among its participants. The researchers said every $1 invested in the wellness program saved $3.78 in health care costs," writes Mary Elizabeth Dallas at HealthDay News.

Workers who participated in both programs saved $160 each month in costs. Those who took part in only the lifestyle-management program, however, did not save a significant cost each month -- although they did miss less work, which affects the company's bottom line.

Why do disease-monitoring programs work better than the lifestyle-focused approach? In part, it might be because the changes required in the first wellness program were incremental and less intrusive -- in other words, it's easier to agree to get your blood pressure checked than it is to quit smoking.

Researchers made the point that it's easier to cut costs among workers who already spend more money (or require the company to spend more money). The cost-savings incurred by the lifestyle-management folks might well be long-term, and are therefore harder to measure.

In any event, if you want to have a healthier lifestyle in the new year, you're better off choosing a plan that allows you to make small changes.

Tell Us What You Think

Does your office have a workplace wellness program, and if so, so you participate? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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