Subjects: Behavioral health
America’s epidemic of overweight and obesity sets back private employers by nearly $45 billion per year in health care costs and diminished productivity. In response, nearly one-third of US companies either offer, or are considering financial incentives that motivate employees to lose weight or otherwise become healthier.
The incentives are quite diverse. Some companies simply reward employees for getting a check-up evaluation or pay the costs of diet classes. Others pay employees that achieve certain exercise targets. Still others cut health-insurance premiums.
IBM has long been considered a leader in such programs. Nearly half of its workforce earns upwards of $150 per year for participating. In one scheme, IBM pays employees for completing 3-month, Web-based health programs.
As another example, OhioHealth, a hospital chain, began paying employees for walking. The provider uses pedometers and pays up to $500 depending on the distance travelled. “We thought that would be a big enough number to help people think twice,” Lisa Meddock, OhioHealth’s benefits manager told the Wall Street Journal.
Nearly half of OhioHealth’s 9,000 employees participated, and the provider has paid out over $377,000 so far.
The literature contains few studies designed to assess the impact of employer-based health incentive programs like this. In one of the largest studies, Cornell University scientists examined 7 such programs and found that the average participant lost just over 1 pound.
The Cornell team did find, however that programs designed to put employees at risk for losing their own money were more effective than those designed to win money. In one such study featuring so-called “refundable bonds,” participants agreed to shed X pounds by Y date or forfeit the money they deposited. In this program, employees lost an average of 4 pounds.