Study Says Wellness Programs Lower Health Care Costs

May 2, 2011 ( - A new longitudinal study conducted among participants in Discovery Holding’s incentive-based wellness program, Vitality, indicates that wellness programs incorporating positive incentives can lead to behavior change that, over time, is associated with lower health care costs.

The retrospective study examined the changes in participation in verified fitness activities and the impact on hospital claims over five years among members of Discovery Health medical plan and found an increased frequency of gym visits was associated with a lower probability of hospital admissions. Two additional gym visits per week reduced the probability of hospital admission by 13%.  

According to a press release, the percentage of Vitality members using the gym one or more times a week increased by almost 23%. Over time the percentage of members who joined the gym but were “inactive” decreased by 8%, and there was an increase in the percentage of members classified as “medium- and high-engaged” in fitness related activities.  

Members who consistently maintained or increased engagement with fitness-related activities had the best outcomes related to hospital admission and costs. Hospital costs were 6% lower in those members who were inactive and became active and 16% lower in those members who were active throughout the study compared to those members who remained inactive.  

The study looked at more than 300,000 adult members of the Discovery Health plan of which 192,467 members were registered with the Vitality wellness program and 111,587 were not on the program.  

“These findings are important for employers as they look for ways to reduce their healthcare costs and improve the health of their employees. This is also important news for the government as it seeks ways to decrease costs and improve health outcomes in our healthcare system,” said Ken Thorpe, Ph.D., Robert W. Woodruff professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University and executive director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, in the press release.  

The study is published in the May/June issue of the peer-reviewed American Journal of Health Promotion.