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Corporate wellness programs can transform health, save money

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM The

    Hilton Hawaiian Village and Waikiki Beach Resort hotel executives and team members take part in a quick paddle in January. In the back smiling is steersman Stephen Wong, who restored the canoes used in the hotel’s corporate wellness program for its employees.

Wellness — prevention of disease while maintaining healthfulness — matters to everyone. Think about how great you feel (or would feel) after your doctor tells you your improved nutrition and increased activity have lowered your blood pressure to the ideal 110/76, reducing your risk of stroke to that of someone who never had blood-pressure problems. That feel-good moment matters for your continued commitment to better health.

Your wellness matters to your employer, too. All organizations want healthy, productive employees who are absent less often and whose health insurance costs less. But health care bills are skyrocketing; in 2016, HMO coverage for an employee family plan averaged more than $12,000 per year!

The federal government should care about wellness and prevention too, since it contributes billions of dollars to protect you from everything from arthritis to Zika. In 2016, the national bill for health and wellness was $3.3 trillion.

The biggest news is that 80-plus percent of that staggering amount goes toward handling chronic diseases, such as arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers — which half of you suffer from.

But we know how to prevent 80 to 90 percent of those chronic diseases! Clean up the food chain; increase activity; practice sleep and stress management; improve the environment and infrastructure; institute work safety programs; support childhood care … the list of effective remedies goes on and on.

So what can be done to upgrade the health of all Americans and prevent health care costs from bankrupting the country? Establish wellness programs that support, incentivize and sustain every employee’s commitment to defeating chronic diseases.

Data from the Cleveland Clinic’s more than 100,000 employees, who took part in the company’s wellness program that was launched more than a decade ago, show that creating community support and providing incentives, expert counselors and flexible options help people take charge of their health and saves big bucks.

>> Incentives inspire: If an employee and a dependent family member join a wellness program and meet certain health goals, the clinic’s employees can save up to $1,000 off family health insurance plans.

>> Choices matter: The program offers free fitness centers, stress-management classes, nutritional counseling/cooking classes, yoga, smoking cessation and much more.

The data speaks for itself. Employees have shed more than 445,000 pounds and average body mass index falls 0.5 percent annually. The U.S. average increases by 0.37 percent or about 1.25 pounds a year. Smoking rates are down to under 5 percent from 15.4 percent. Immunization rates are up substantially.

Six years ago, chronic diseases among employees rose 10 percent annually; now they’re decreasing by 2 percent yearly.

The medical center and its employees save more than $80 million annually through lower premiums. Additional savings come from having healthier employees who are sick less often, need fewer doctor visits and are more productive.

So if your company has a wellness program (83 percent of those with 200 or more employees do), join it. Make it work for you, and make it fun!


Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.


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