Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Rudd Radar

Impact of Financial Incentives for Employee Wellness Programs

March 7, 2014

The majority of employers who offer health insurance also offer employee wellness programs such as smoking cessation groups and walking programs to encourage employees to set and achieve health goals in exchange for financial perks. One approach that is increasingly being used to incentivize employees is to pay them (through insurance rebates) for achieving health goals.

In a recently published commentary in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, authors Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director, and Lenny Lesser, MD, MSHS, Assistant Research Physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, discuss the effectiveness of these programs.

According to the authors, monetary incentives can help employees start to make healthy changes, but these changes are difficult to sustain in the long term. “These programs do not address key factors that impact public health: marketing, pricing and the easy availability of unhealthy food,” according to lead author, Lenny Lesser, MD, MSHS. “It also unfairly places the responsibility on individuals to change health indices over which they have little personal control. Ignoring environmental and biological forces that contribute to obesity can undermine a program’s ability to help people reach weight outcomes or change health behavior.”

The authors suggest that employers create a healthier work environment. Tactics like providing time and space for physical activity or removing sugary drinks would make it easier for employees to engage in healthy behavior in the workplace, and these strategies would prevent the stigmatization and ethical problems associated with incentivizing weight loss.