Unhealthy choices linked to billions spent by company healthcare plans

Unhealthy choices linked to billions shed out by company healthcare plansResearchers have found that one out of every four dollars spent by company healthcare plans is associated with an unhealthy choice, such as smoking, stress and obesity. Even though many companies have workplace wellness programs, there are still billions of dollars being spent on health problems associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at 10 modifiable health risks in nearly 223,500 people in seven different industries. Modifiable risk factors are those that can be changed or removed in order to live a healthier life. Obesity was found to be top-ranking in costing healthcare plans the most money, followed by stress, mood-altering drugs, not wearing a seatbelt, lack of exercise, drinking and smoking, and blood pressure and cholesterol.


First author, Michael O’Donnell, Ph.D., said, “There are hundreds of well-designed programs, but thousands of programs that are too superficial to have an impact. The best programs increase awareness about the link between lifestyle and health, motivate people to change and build the skills necessary to do so, and provide opportunities to practice a healthy lifestyle.”

Promoting wellness not only leads to healthier employees, but the goal is to reduce costs and prevent disease as well. “Employee wellness programs are a win-win for employers and employees. If employees improve their lifestyle, they feel better and reduce their chances of getting sick. Costs go down for employers and their employees, or at least costs do not increase as much as they would otherwise,” Dr. O’Donnell added.

Average cost for a healthy employee was found to be $3,000 but was nearly $10,000 for an employee with just one pre-existing medical condition. Modifiable behaviors and conditions cost $750 for healthy employees and $2,600 for those with pre-existing conditions.

The findings were published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.