Wellness Works!

Unhealthy Behaviors Cost Employers Health Plan Dollars!

We have all seen reports in the news lately about the increase in obesity, as well as diabetes, in the United States. Smoking in teenagers is on the rise. On the plus side, unhealthy behaviors are “front and center” and there is certainly an increased public awareness. But what isn’t as discussed is the financial drain that unhealthy individuals put on the healthcare system. Primarily, the dollars that employers are spending on medical premiums, as well as monies out of pocket for self-insured plans. 


The areas of major costs are: tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle (lack of physical activity), and obesity.


The following are some examples and startling statistics according to Dr. Steve Aldana, Professor of Lifestyle Medicine in the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young University:


Tobacco Use: This is where the largest and most tangible benefit occurs—a reduction in medical spending for adults as of result of quitting the use of tobacco. For those who continue to use, the costs are staggering. First, there’s the cost of lost economic output because tobacco users die 12 to14 years earlier than non-tobacco users. That’s a huge reduction in productivity. In addition, tobacco users will incur more medical care than non-users.

Obesity: About 67% of the population is either obese or overweight, and that number has some consequences associated with it. About 12% of total healthcare costs are obesity related. So for an employer, you can pretty much take all your healthcare costs for the year, take 12% of that, and you’ll be pretty close to approximating your obesity burden—the amount of cost you have that is directly due to treating obese individuals.


If you take, for example, someone who’s obese and someone who’s not, and they both have the same health condition or the same disease, it costs $1,200 more to treat the obese person than it does the person who maintains a healthy weight—even though it may not be an obesity related condition. This increase in treatment costs occurs because it’s more difficult to treat obese patients. It’s tougher to get IV lines in them; it’s tougher to do surgery on them; they have more complications.


Sedentary Lifestyle: The diet piece plus sedentary living are both contributing to the obesity epidemic. That’s when the numbers start to get really, really concerning. Indeed, when you factor this variable in, you’re now looking at 35-40% of total healthcare costs. If you add in tobacco use, you’re now sitting at 65-70% of total healthcare expenditures.

So between physical inactivity and obesity, it could cost an employer as much as 27% of their total healthcare claims?

What employers need to do is consider a corporate sponsored wellness program. If employers lead by example, it will only benefit their bottom line. Increases in physical activity and modifications in dietary habits, as well as smoking cessation can result in reductions in claims costs.