Can employee fitness programs benefit large employers?
Issue: You have heard of the advantages that small businesses can realize by establishing a fitness program for their employees. Do the same advantages exist for large employers?
Answer:     Yes. Corporate fitness programs are yielding increased employee morale, savings in health care costs, improved productivity and reduced absence rates, according to a national survey of 84 large employers conducted by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH). More than half (56 percent) of the responding firms reported increased morale, 27 percent cited health care cost savings, and approximately 20 percent saw higher productivity and fewer absences.

The most prevalent fitness initiatives are the following:
  • On-site fitness center (77 percent of employers);
  • On-site fitness programs (69 percent);
  • Sponsored fitness programs (67 percent);
  • Informational materials on local programs (60 percent); and
  • Web-based tools for tracking and information (38 percent).
Obesity in the workplace. "Obesity costs U.S. employers more than $13 billion annually and it also adversely affects the quality of life and health of their workers," noted LuAnn Heinen, director of the NBGH's Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity, which more than one year ago launched a campaign for large employers to develop strategies to combat obesity in the workplace. "A major part of our effort is to look at the role of fitness programs in helping to foster a healthier workplace and a healthier employee."

Employee participation. A major challenge for employers is to obtain higher worker participation in employers' fitness programs. About two-thirds of the surveyed companies reported that fewer than 25 percent of their workers participate in the companies' fitness programs, 30 percent said that between 25 and 50 percent of their workers participate, while only 2 percent reported that more than half of their work force participates. The majority of the employers (61 percent) require employee cost-sharing for the fitness programs, 27 percent fund the program entirely, and 12 percent require employees to pay for the entire cost of the program. Most of the companies (84 percent) promote their fitness programs on the company's intranet, with 70 percent also using posters, flyers, and e-mails.

Source: National Business Group on Health,
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