For all of the hype about employee wellness, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much prevention and management programs can really save. Still, many people would be surprised by findings from a recent Health Affairs study that concludes the 10 modifiable health risks (listed below) only connect to about 20% of health care spending. The 10 costly sins are:
• Obesity / overweight
• Smoking/ tobacco use
• High blood pressure
• High blood cholesterol
• High blood glucose
• Physical inactivity
• Poor eating habits
• Alcohol use
The study included more than 92,000 employees at seven companies over a three-year span. It tracked employees’ answers to a health risk assessment and their medical claims.
People with a high risk of depression were the most likely to have significantly higher medical costs — up to 48% higher than an average employee without depression. Blood glucose and blood pressure came in second place: both boosted medical costs by almost 32%. Obesity — popularly cited as public enemy number one — raised an employee’s costs by around 27%.
There are at least two ways to respond to this study: One is to celebrate that wellness programs can have an impact on one-fifth of health spending. The other is to bemoan that wellness cannot affect nearly 80% of health spending.
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