I found it surprising too!
A study of over 67,000 people who could join PepsiCo’s “Healthy Living” wellness program found that 7 years of participation in a “disease management” program resulted in a net savings — the cost of the program was less than the money saved by reduced healthcare costs. These sorts of programs are “aimed at helping people with chronic illnesses stay healthy, by educating them and reminding them to take medication” and “resulted in significant savings”.
Meanwhile, the wellness program’s “lifestyle management offerings, which aim to reduce health risks through programs focusing on weight loss or stress management, resulted in no net savings at all.”
As the NYTimes headline put it, “Study Raises Questions for Employer Wellness Programs.“
Researchers estimate that disease management lowered health costs by $136 per member per month, mostly thanks to a 29 percent reduction in hospital admissions. Lifestyle programs, however, had no significant effect on health care costs.
Other analyses have shown cost savings for lifestyle programs — perhaps, researchers said, because they looked at older programs that were introduced when habits like smoking were more prevalent and cholesterol-lowering drugs were just becoming available, so gains from intervention were greater. Another study at the University of Minnesota, with a design similar to the PepsiCo study, also found that savings resulted from disease management programs rather than lifestyle programs.
I note this article is in the “Business” section and focuses on dollars and cents and not the utter failure of weight loss programs or the paternalism inherent in businesses that offer stress management classes while overworking employees. I also note that a program focused on “educating people with chronic illnesses on their diseases and reminding them to take their medication” sounds a lot like actually treating the chronic illnesses so they don’t get worse. Heck, the paper’s title? “Managing Manifest Diseases, But Not Health Risks, Saved PepsiCo Money Over Seven Years.” What a concept!
But yeah: If you are in a position to discuss a potential “wellness” program with an employer, here’s some research on how weight loss programs don’t save money. May be useful.