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1. In this randomized controlled trial, individuals exposed to workplace wellness programs self-reported greater amount of time engaging in regular exercise and actively managing weight.

2. No difference in clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, or employment outcomes were observed 18 months into the program.

Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)   

Study Rundown: Workplace wellness programs have become increasingly popular in the United States and have been assisted by public investments from the Affordable Care Act. However, there is limited information on the benefit of these programs for reducing healthcare costs and improving employee health and productivity. In this cluster randomized clinical trial, multiyear workplace wellness programs increased rates of 2 self-reported patient outcomes: engaging in regular exercise and actively managing weight. However, no significant differences were detected in other pre-specified outcomes, including health outcomes and behaviors, clinical markers of health, medical and pharmaceutical spending and utilization measures, and employment outcomes at 18 months into the program.

Overall, this study suggests there is no significant benefit of wellness programs on clinical measures of health, healthcare spending and utilization, or employment outcomes. However, the follow-up period was relatively short at only 18 months. While the study is limited in its generalizability across work place environments and incomplete information on some outcomes existed, it informs our understanding on the utility of wellness programs in the workplace.

Click to read the study, published today in JAMA

Click to read an accompanying editorial in JAMA

Relevant Reading: A Review of the U.S. Workplace Wellness Market

In-Depth [randomized controlled trial]: This study was conducted at a large warehouse retail company, BJ’s Wholesale Club, which employs about 26000 workers across 201 worksites along the eastern United States. The Wellness Program consisted of 8 modules over 18 months, with each module lasting 4 to 8 weeks and covering topics such as nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and prevention. The wellness program was implemented in randomly selected worksites, and workers were assigned to treatment or control status based on their worksite at the time of randomization or initial employment. Outcomes were collected across 4 domains, including self-reported health and behaviors via survey, clinical measures of health via screenings, and healthcare spending and utilization and employment outcomes from administrative data. Among 32974 employees, 4037 employees participated from the intervention sites and 4106 from the control sites. After 18 months, intervention sites had higher rates of 2 self-reported outcomes (engaging in regular exercise 69.8% vs 61.9%; p = 0.03; actively managing weight 69.2% vs 54.7%; p = 0.02). The program had no benefit on health outcomes and behaviors, clinical markers of health, medical and pharmaceutical spending and utilization measures, and employment outcomes (p > 0.05).

Image: PD

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