Friday, July 11, 2008

Companies Win As Workers Lose Pounds

“To Bill Pratt, two things seemed to grow out of proportion at Wesley Willows Corp. retirement community in recent years: employees' health-insurance premiums, and their waistlines. Mr. Pratt, the chief executive, could see there was a connection. Each time he walked around his nonprofit's leafy campus, he noticed that the ‘employee base could stand to lose a few pounds,’ he says. Meanwhile, like many companies around the country, the organization had seen its health-care costs soar for several years running, due in part to claims from its less-than-healthy-looking work force. But a little over a year later, employees on the 290-person staff at Wesley Willows have lost a cumulative 750 pounds -- and health-insurance claims by the staff have dropped dramatically. When the company renewed its health insurance for 2008, premiums edged up just over 3% -- the lowest increase in at least a decade, company executives say. How did it happen? Wesley Willows, in Rockford, Ill., embarked on a companywide wellness contest that pitted groups of employees against one another in friendly competition. In effect, it paid workers to lose weight. Inspired by TV shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ and plagued by rising health-care costs, a growing number of small companies are using contest-style incentive programs to spur employees to get healthy. The format is a natural fit for small companies, where executives say the natural camaraderie lends itself to teamwork and competitive spirit.”

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