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Workplace health promotion programs show 16:1 return on investment, says BYU study

Health promotion in the workplace can positively affect the bottom line for companies and the waistline for employees, according to Brigham Young University researchers.

Their new study published in the latest issue of the journal "Preventive Medicine" explains that employees who participate in workplace health promotion programs miss fewer workdays than those who choose not to participate, with the decrease in absenteeism translating into a cost savings of nearly $16 for each dollar spent on the program.

"This is just another reason companies should offer and encourage participation in wellness programs," said Steven Aldana, director of the research team and professor of exercise science at BYU.

Depending on a company's size, between 2.5 and 4.5 percent of the money spent on salaries goes to absent employees. By implementing wellness programs, Aldana estimates that companies can save millions of dollars annually.

"Companies are always looking for ways to reduce employee-related expenses," Aldana said. "Many corporations use health promotion programs as a reactionary effort to curtail ever-increasing, employee-related expenses of health care and lost productivity. This new information provides additional evidence why companies should help employees have healthy lifestyles."

Aldana's co-authors on the study include BYU professors Ray Merrill and Ron Hager, BYU graduate student Kristine Price and Aaron Hardy of the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev. The study examined the health claims costs and absenteeism of 6,246 employees and retirees from the Washoe County School District in Reno over 6 years. Employees' participation in the school district's wellness program was associated with an estimated savings of more than $3 million in absenteeism costs when compared with nonparticipants.

"The findings are important because, although investment in health promotion is not large, it has a large payback for organizations," said Nico Pronk, vice president of the HealthPartners Center for Health Promotion in Minneapolis. "Perhaps more importantly, it shows that such programs are able to keep people more functional and on-the-job. Although this is certainly important from an employer's perspective, the ultimate winner is the individual who enjoys better health on a daily basis."

Aldana is the author of "The Culprit and the Cure," a book that explains why people should adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle and how to do it. Most of his research looks at how best to reduce chronic diseases: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, the development of which is heavily influenced by a person's lifestyle choices.

"If we can get people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, their health will improve and they will live longer – death can be postponed by 10 to 20 years," Aldana said. "They will lose weight, experience less diabetes, dramatically lower their risk for cancer and considerably improve the quality of their lives."

Writer: Cara Louise Madsen

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