Workplace Wellness Programs Require More Research and Science

How Business Can Impact Public Health

By: John Agwunobi, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Co-President and Chief Health & Nutrition Officer

I recently participated in a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Public Health Summit 2016 in Washington, D.C. The panel, “Toward a Healthier Workplace: The Business Case for Public Health,” brought together experts in academia, government and the private sector to discuss workplace wellness and prevention programs and the potential benefits to public health. It was moderated by Ryan Shadrick Wilson, Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel, Partnership for a Healthier America.

Workplace Wellness

Many large U.S. companies offer workplace wellness programs for their employees. The reasons are obvious: companies can save on healthcare costs when their workers are healthy and there’s the additional benefits of greater productivity and fewer missed workdays from employees who are in better health. But according to a 2014 Gallup survey, only 24% of employees at companies offering wellness programs are participating.

So why are so few employees participating in wellness programs? The truth is that a great wellness program has to start at the grassroots level. An example would be the four million independent contractors that work in Herbalife. They are essentially, each and every one of them, a passionate advocate for wellness … In essence, they’re fighting for fitness, they’re fighting for healthy nutrition even as they build their businesses … Imagine if we could take these people who have interacted with public health in the work place and engage them with a challenge and incentivize them to go back out into their communities and change the world?

A Culture of Health

The independent contractors don’t work for us, but what we do provide to them is training and education on fitness and on healthy nutrition as part of their relationship with us.

Health is good business. Health in a community is great business: you have a healthier workforce … and a healthier community is a better consumer. The other benefit is that you motivate workers and you have an inspired organization that has a purpose.

For many, they learn more about health and wellness at work than they do at home or in their communities … At the community level, that public health worker is often seen as a community leader, but there just weren’t enough of them to touch every person and every family.

More Study is Needed

I think we need to invite the academics into public health to participate in the research, the science and the evidenced-based building that we need to take this to the next level … Gathering a body of evidence … and taking it out to small businesses and large businesses and trying to show what best practices are is a big part of making this sustainable over time.