MADISON, Wis. — Companies across Wisconsin are turning to wellness programs as a way to save money and improve the health and productivity of their employees.

A Cornell University found that 12 percent of all health care dollars in Wisconsin are spent on obesity-related conditions, above the national average of 8 percent, Wisconsin Public Radio reported .

Companies hope to curb health care costs by encouraging their employees to be healthier, said Justin Sydnor, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business and researches wellness programs.

“There’s been a push recently for companies, in particular, to start offering direct cash payments or reductions on premiums for insurance for people who engage in healthier activities, so exercising more, dieting, taking a health risk assessment,” Sydnor said.

But studies have mixed conclusions about how effective the programs are. Some studies found that offering money doesn’t motivate people to be healthier.

Sydnor and other UW researchers conducted a study last year that gave new gym members up to $60 if they went to the gym at least nine times in a six-week period.

“We find in this situation that additional money doesn’t really seem to help,” explained Sydnor. “This is an environment where people have good intentions, but most people don’t follow through. They want to go three times a week, but within about 2 weeks after joining the gym, people on average are only going to the gym one time a week and many are not going at all.”

Other studies have shown that the programs can reduce company health costs, said Jonathon Morgan, physical activity coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“Return on investment is usually between $2-5 dollars. Most of the studies are showing that,” Morgan said. “Generally speaking, you’ll get more back than you invest in your wellness program.”


Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org