Study critical of wellness ROI resultsNews added by Benefits Pro on August 6, 2014

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By Dan Cook

A study of studies conducted to test the return on investment of corporate wellness programs determined that, the higher the “quality” of the study, the lower the ROI of company programs.

The five-author study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, basically concluded that more thorough studies of the financial returns derived from corporate wellness plans revealed costs that often went unreported and thus the true financial benefits to the employer were lower than more superficial studies had indicated.

The ROI of wellness plans continues to create a lively debate within the wellness community. Some experts in the field have questioned how meaningful ROI calculation is, while others have been openly skeptical of the high ROIs reported from some studies.

Researchers reviewed the results of 51 studies published between 1984 and 2012. These studies included 261,901 participants, and 122,242 control group members. Studies ranged across nine industries and 12 countries. The researchers trolled 10 major data bases, culling their studies so that they had a range of study methodologies.

“Overall weighted ROI … was 1.38 ± 1.97 (1.38–1.39), which indicated a 138 percent return on investment,” the researchers wrote. “When accounting for methodological quality, an inverse relationship to ROI was found. High-quality studies ... had a smaller mean ROI, 0.26 ± 1.74, compared to moderate 0.90 ± 1.25 and low-quality 2.32 ± 2.14 studies. … Financial returns become increasingly positive across quasi-experimental, nonexperimental, and modeled studies.”

The study's overall conclusion: “Mean weighted ROI in workplace health promotion demonstrated a positive ROI. Higher methodological quality studies provided evidence of smaller financial returns. Methodological quality and study design are important determinants” of the estimated ROI of wellness programs.

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