UI study suggests workplace health programs ineffective

Local News

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Does your employer offer a workplace health program? It turns out it may not do much good.

Changing bad habits into healthy ones could be harder than your boss was hoping. Researchers at the University of Illinois just published a new study which found workplace health programs don’t really seem to affect workers’ well-being.

We’re talking about things your employer might provide to help you stay healthy: health or fitness assessments, weight watching programs, disease management classes or ways to help you keep track of things.

The idea is, if you’re provided with that assistance, you’ll be healthier, which means fewer sick days, lower medical bills, and higher productivity: a win-win for both you and your boss.

But this study says that doesn’t line up with reality.

About 5,000 UI employees took part. Some of them were enrolled in a workplace health program, and the others were part of a control group who were not enrolled. After a year, the research team found both groups were just as likely to take sick days, spend money on healthcare, go to the gym, or run a marathon.

But that doesn’t mean those programs are a total waste of time and money. One of the study’s co-authors, Julian Reif, says there’s a silver lining.

“What this means is that if you’re a firm thinking about offering a workplace wellness program, if you do offer one, you may become more attractive to other workers who already have low healthcare costs, and are engaging in healthy behaviors,” he says, “even if these programs don’t have a direct effect on the healthcare costs or behaviors or employees, they may nevertheless make sense for employers to adopt because it may help them attract the types of workers they’re looking for in their firm.”

So if you want to hire health-conscious people, offering these programs could be a good way to get them in the door. Just don’t count on the free programs changing anyone’s habits.

The study was co-authored by Drs. Damon Jones, David Molitor and Julian Reif.

The team’s work isn’t done yet. They’re still waiting for some biometric results to be analyzed. It includes the workers’ blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on. The study also has to be peer-reviewed. The results reflect one year of data. The team will continue gathering information.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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