Doubts surround effectiveness of wellness plans aimed at weight loss

As American companies continue to expand wellness programs for their employees, one former Harvard professor says the whole concept is suspect at best, according to BenefitsPro.

Corporate wellness programs, intended to achieve health insurance savings by promoting employee health, aren't what they are cracked up to be, says Alfred Lewis, founder and CEO of Quizzify, a consumer health education company.

In a study published in February in the American Journal of Managed Care, Lewis, a former Harvard economics instructor, looked at the results of weight control programs, one of the main focuses of wellness programs. He concluded that no company can point to savings achieved from an employee weight-loss program.

Lewis says no company has been able to demonstrate sustained weight loss across a large population for two years or more. Corporate reports on the achievements of wellness programs do not account for employees who don't participate or those who drop out of their wellness programs, he adds.

Wellness programs that focus on weight loss may in fact have negative effects, Lewis says, arguing that overscreening and crash dieting can impact employees' morale and even harm their health. 

Despite these concerns, some employers are raising the bar for employees to qualify for program incentives, according to a report by Kaiser Health News. Many companies are now requiring workers to participate in biometric screening--for instance, having blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked to ensure they are within healthy ranges--to receive contributions to their health insurance costs.

Other companies have taken the next step--limiting financial rewards to only those who actually achieve target levels or work with a health coach to reach those goals, the report says.

While companies push wellness programs, there are still obstacles to overcome. One survey found that many employees are still not aware that these programs exist. And in other cases, employees are still wary of sharing their personal information, afraid it will trickle back to their employer and be used against them.

To learn more:
read the BenefitsPro report
- read the report by Kaiser Health News

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