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Wellness Programs' ROI Unclear When It Comes to Obesity

  • The Find: Obesity costs U.S. companies up to $45 billion annually, according to the latest research, but expensive corporate wellness programs don't necessarily mitigate the costs.
The Takeaway: Analysts at both The Conference Board and ING Wholesale have been crunching numbers to quantify the effect of all our extra pounds on the bottom line of American business. Economists at ING looked at the link between obesity and economic growth. They concluded that the increase in the number of seriously overweight Americans and the resultant dip in fertility and life expectancy will cost the U.S. economy $650 billion over the next 50 years--that's 5 percent of our current GDP.

Taken together with the$45 billion a year price tag from The Conference Board, the numbers could alarm even the least health-conscious manager, but both studies warn against over-reacting. The Conference Board looked at wellness programs, for example, and found that the ROI on $1 invested varied from $0 up to $5. Managers shouldn't rush to institute health incentives, as a well thought out program is key to maximizing return. There are potential discrimination risks involved and successful programs often are designed with employee input rather than top-down decrees to get in shape. The researchers also found evidence that simply giving prizes or rewards for shedding pounds might be more cost effective than investing in a long-term wellness scheme.