Wellness programs working—in theory

Seventy-one percent of operators have an employee wellness program.

According to The Big Picture research, 71% of operators have an employee wellness program and a great majority of them say they believe the wellness programs are working. Offering everything from nutrition guidance to smoking cessation classes and even sleep-well clinics, such programs are geared toward stemming rising healthcare costs.

Slightly more than half of respondents with an employee wellness program admit they don’t yet have the data to back up their claims of success.

“Our program is fairly new, but the emails and verbal responses we’ve gotten from customers is encouraging,” says James Kolumban, executive chef at Villanova University in Philadelphia. Villanova’s “holistic approach” to wellness is administered by human resources and supported by Dining Services through healthful menu items and nutrition education.

Kolumban notes that he would like to see a survey conducted, not only to see how successful the university is being but also where departments should be concentrating their efforts.

Among the 23% of operators who have an employee wellness program and report positive measurable results, most point to weight reduction (78%), fewer smokers (58%) and less absenteeism among employees (50%).

“It has been a group effort,” says Michael Atanasio, manager of food and nutrition services at Overlook Hospital, Summit, N.J., where Summit Fit Club has been active since last May. “We are just one part, the healthy eating portion, but the key has been making the message consistent among all departments.”

The hospital has anecdotal evidence of the program’s success, in the form of notes from many of the club’s 325 members sharing how the program helped them reach various health goals. As for actual data, Atanasio says that 85% of the food purchased by club members are healthy choices.

“This shows that participation in the club yields healthier eating,” he suggests.
Incentives do help to get people to live healthier lives, according to Mary Houston, director of food and nutrition services at Heartland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph, Mo.

“We have insurance premiums tied to BMI,” says Houston, whose department works closely with the hospital’s wellness department. “You can get lower insurance by exercising in the on-site facility. We also offer prizes tied to various activities for employees, such as number of minutes exercised.”

Houston says one of her department’s efforts to promote healthier dining is a “Have you tried it” special every month.

“We find an item to feature and we prepare a dish with it,” she explains. “We recently did an eggplant dish that went over very well.”

At Southwest Memorial Hospital, in Denver, weight loss, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity are the main signs this hospital’s wellness efforts are paying off, according to Food Service Director Sheila Pederson.

“I just think the time is right,” says Pederson. “Messages about the importance of good health are finally getting through to people, and so they are more committed. That’s the key; if people don’t want to improve their health, no program you implement is going to be successful.”