Plenty of questions have been raised about the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. But Humana appears to be having some success improving employee nutrition habits and clinical risk factors—at least among its own workers.
Humana tracked 10,000 of its employees who were enrolled in its Go365 wellness program over five years and found that over that window, the participants increased their intake of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and exercised more often.
During the baseline period, just 16% of participants said they ate five or more servings of fruits or vegetables daily. By year five, that number increased to 28%. Before the study, 36% of participants worked out 150 minutes or more per week, which increased to 62% in year five.
In addition, participants in the program saw improvements in their high-density lipoprotein (or “good” cholesterol) counts—which indicates a lower risk of heart disease—and the number of members in the ideal range for blood glucose levels ticked up slightly.
Humana also found that members were 2.3% less likely to smoke by the fifth year of the study and were 5% more likely to report low stress levels.
About 5 million Humana members participate in Go365, which in addition to tracking health behaviors offers redeemable rewards for certain actions, such as getting a flu shot or a physical.
Jeff Reid, Humana’s senior vice president for wellness solutions, said these trends are key for strengthening the workforce. “Managing healthcare costs is a priority for employers who strive to offer competitive benefits while fostering a healthier, more productive workforce,” Reid said.
Humana also noted cost benefits in its analysis. By year five, the members most active in the program spent on average $116 less per month compared to members who were less engaged with the program.
Highly engaged members also had 35% fewer emergency room visits and 30% fewer hospital admissions, Humana found.
The results come as some recent research has thrown cold water on the assumed effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. Data published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found few clinical benefits to such programs.
One of the key challenges to making them work? Encouraging participation, experts say. Employees expect these programs to be included in their benefits, but uptake is low.
Employers are also committed to continuing to offer workplace wellness initiatives, particularly as they can be an effective recruitment tool.