Yes, it really pays: wellness and fitness programs yield measurable bottom-line benefits.

Position:Health Care

The investment you make in keeping your workforce healthy is money well spent.

A University of Michigan study of research conducted over the past 21 years concludes that some wellness programs do indeed produce significant cost savings, despite skepticism on the part of some employers.

"Worksite wellness programs have been proven to impact the bottom line in a very significant way," says D.W. Edington, director of U-M's Health Management Research Center.

Cost savings from employer-sponsored wellness programs rarely are realized immediately, however. Edington says wellness programs generally must be in place for at least one year for risk reduction to occur and one to three years to show cost-effectiveness.

Here are some details from the study:

Comprehensive programs: Year-round health programs are designed to achieve greater cost savings and most do. Most of the many studies cited show savings-to-cost ratios of more than $3 for each dollar invested. Documented savings are observed in medical cost, absenteeism, workers' comp, short-term disability and "presenteeism" (how productive the employee is during the time on the job).

Influenza: Three studies showed that workers who received the influenza vaccine had lower absenteeism rates and lower medical costs associated with influenza-like illnesses. Another study showed that offering influenza vaccines in the worksite can be costly when the vaccine doesn't match the circulation virus.

Back pain: Businesses lose $20 billion to $56 million to back pain and injuries each year (medical costs, lost production and employee training). Some companies have had success with back-care programs. Boeing Corp. reduced back injuries by 34 percent, saving more than $6 million; Coca Cola Bottling Co. reduced employee back injuries by 32 percent; and Dupont Co. reported saving $10 million in 1989 with its program.

Cardiovascular health: A 1993 study showed that heart...

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