IBM shares wellness with the kids

Wellness has come a long way. It wasn’t long ago that companies doubted whether there was any real return on investment for wellness programs, but now they seem convinced. IBM, for example, says it avoids $100 to $130 million per year on health care costs as a result of offering wellness programs focused primarily on weight loss and smoking cessation. IBM happily pays out cash to employees who undertake the programs –that’s how strongly they believe in them.

Nonetheless, I was a little surprised to read in today’s Wall Street Journal (IBM to Help Pay for Plans to Curb Childhood Obesity) that the company is about to extend the program to children of its employees. The company will pay $150 to each employee whose child participates in a “12-week online program of diet and exercise training.” Even though being overweight is unhealthy, I’d be surprised if there’s a significant difference in health care costs in this population. I’d expect most of the cost difference to kick in once the kids are out of the house and off their parents’ health plan. I could even imagine more active kids being more likely to be treated for broken bones and other activity-related problems. I don’t have the data, though, and I could be wrong.

But then it occurred to me that the program could still pay off. After all, if kids take the program to heart it might influence the shopping and eating habits of their parents. Once kids start nagging about healthy foods it might get mom and dad to shape up. That would really be something.

October 24, 2007

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