Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Better Health Habits of Workers Cut Medical Costs, Study Shows

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Better Health Habits of Workers Cut Medical Costs, Study Shows

Article excerpt

DETROIT _ If enough smokers, heavy drinkers and couch potatoes improve their health habits, a company's health care costs can plummet, according to nine years worth of study at one manufacturer.

Workers at furniture maker Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., who have taken advantage of company programs to exercise, stop smoking, eat less fat and reduce stress have cut their medical bills in half, according to results released Wednesday by the University of Michigan Fitness Research Center.

"We're saving more money in families and employees reducing their risk than it costs to run the wellness program," said Pamela Witting, manager of wellness and disability services at Steelcase. "It's a nominal cost when you look at how fast health care costs are rising."

Witting wouldn't disclose Steelcase's total savings from the program, but, in a report to its employees, the company said if all high health risk workers adopted low-risk lifestyles, "the savings could amount to roughly $20 million over three years."

The study is the longest running evaluation of its kind in the country, said D.W. Edington, director of the Fitness Research Center.

"The study confirmed that high-risk people are high-cost people. That makes sense, but it needed to be scientifically corroborated," Edington said in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor.

The study is one of only a handful that have documented cost savings based on behavioral change, said Jonathan Showstack, associate professor at the University of California at San Francisco.

"It's more evidence for a corporation to put money into a program that teaches and helps employees to lead healthier lifestyles," Showstack said. "It's evidence for the decision-makers within the company to say, `Yes, this is a cost saving measure in the long run because our health insurance costs are going to be lower. …

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