Hospital employee wellness programs have mixed impact

Hospitals and health systems have turned to employee wellness centers to address health issues such as obesity and smoking among their employees. But a new study suggests they might not produce consistent results.

A report published Thursday in the journal Nature finds that a wellness program at Mayo Clinic has had some success helping employees quit smoking, but has not had a significant impact on obesity.

Researchers conducted surveys on Mayo employees a year after the center opened in 1995 and again in 2007, just prior to the opening of a new wellness center in 2008. Employees were surveyed again in 2009 and 2010.

Participants answered questions employees about their diet, smoking, exercise and quality of life. Wellness center members and non-members were included in the survey.

In addition to exercise equipment, the program offered cooking demonstrations, group fitness classes, individual wellness evaluations and weight loss programs.

Among both members and non-members, obesity rates increaded in line with national trends. Members were less likely to smoke, however, and engaged more often in regular and cardiovascular exercise. 

Employer-based interventions may be effective in improving some--but not all--health behaviors, notes the study abstract.

Obesity is higher among healthcare workers than in the population at large. El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California has also used social media and technology to turn employee wellness into a game.  In the first eight months of the program, El Camino employees shed a group total of 1,000 pounds.

Meanwhile, Becker's Hospital Review reported that the Cleveland Clinic has instituted an employee burnout prevention program called "Code Lavender," in which nurses and physicians facing severe stress can access traditional healing techniques, stress relief, meditation and even healthy snacks.

To learn more:
- Read the article and report in Nature here.
- Read the Becker's Hospital Review article here.

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