Work site wellness centers equate to weight loss and health care savings, expert says

March 25, 2015

As employees and employers face higher health care costs, work site wellness are becoming increasingly more important to help control the costs of health care and encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors among the workforce, a Mayo Clinic study says.

Research published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that members of Mayo Clinic's employee wellness center, the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center (DAHLC), who regularly participated in wellness activities, experienced significant weight loss and savings.

"A well-planned comprehensive wellness center can engage and retain members which can ultimately lead to important savings in health care costs and reductions in body mass index (BMI)," says lead researcher Bijan Borah, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.

For the study, the researchers used data from 3,199 members who were continuously enrolled in the DAHLC for three years and their attendance was categorized: 1-60, 61-180, 181-360 and greater than 360 visits. Weight loss was defined as moving to a lower BMI category and was based on their BMI at the beginning of the study: normal (BMI <25), overweight (BMI ?25 to <30), obese (BMI ?30 to <35), and obesity grade II or higher (BMI ?35). The baseline patient information was collected in the first year and study outcomes were assessed during the three-year follow-up period. Researchers pulled data from multiple institutional sources: the wellness center attendance database, electronic health records and a health care claims database.

Important results from the study include:

  • Compared to members who visited the DAHLC 1-60 times in the three-year period, members with 181-360 visits were 46 percent more likely to have weight loss, while the individuals with the most visits (more than 360) were 72 percent more likely to have weight loss.
  • Compared with the mean annual cost of $13,267 for 1-60visits, the mean for subjects with 61-180visits, 181-360 visits, and more than 360 visits had significantly lower costs at $9,538, $9,332 and $8,293, respectively.

"The significant association between health care costs and the frequency of wellness center visits, implying an average cost difference of $4,974 between the top and bottom quartiles of the DAHLC users, is too strong to ignore," says Dr. Borah. "While the use of DAHLC is unlikely the only mediator of either weight control or costs, workplaces that are able to offer comprehensive facilities may be capable of achieving similar gains irrespective of individuals' activity pursuits at the facility."

Explore further: Workplace wellness programs can cut chronic illness costs

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