College and Aurora partner to test value of employee wellness programs

Posted on March 28, 2017
People on treadmills

The College of Health Sciences and Aurora Health Care collaborated on a project that took a look at employee wellness programs and whether financial incentives can help employees control their weight and reduce body mass index (BMI).


Health care costs are increasing for employers and employees. One approach is to implement employee wellness programs (EWPs) to encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles and reduce their BMI. Such novel approaches can improve health and decrease health care and insurance expenditures.

The project

The study set out to test the relationship between wellness programs and employee weight loss, and the modifying effect of the income level of participants.

The collaborators retrospectively examined employees who participated in different weight-loss wellness programs: reweigh/body mass index, coaching and Weight Watchers/Meal Replacement. Those who participated were eligible for a $350 per year insurance premium discount.

The results

The analysis of the data suggests that employees most likely to participate in a wellness program have an income of $45,000 per year or less. However, the weight loss experienced was insignificant. Individuals who made over $70,000 per year were less likely to participate in the EWP, but these participants lost the most weight.

There are limitations to the study, but the discussion and results might prove helpful to those companies designing and offering incentivized EWPs.

Commenting on the study, Kelly Sutton, from Aurora, said, “We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with the faculty in the College of Health Sciences because they are able to bring an academic perspective into our employee wellness program.”

A published article

Jennifer Fink

Jennifer T. Fink, PhD, MS

The findings are summarized in a published article, “Weight Loss Associated with Employee Income in an Incentivized Employee Wellness Program,” in the December 2016 issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM).

The article was selected to be included in the Continuing Medical Education (CME) exam.

CHS Assistant professor, Jennifer Fink, PhD, with the Department of Health Informatics & Administration, praised this fruitful partnership. “Aurora has been so helpful in providing data and being a key partner in helping to develop ways to improve employee wellness. They were an integral part in the development of the JOEM article.”

Key Collaborators

Aurora Health Care

  • George Mueller, PhD
  • Maharaj Singh, PhD
  • David R. Smith, MD, MPH
  • Kelly Sutton, MBA


  • Ron A. Cisler, PhD, MS, College of Health Sciences
  • Jennifer T. Fink, PhD, College of Health Sciences
  • Jessica L. Skalla, BA, College of Health Sciences
  • Jennifer Rich, MPH, Zilber School of Public Health (student)
  • Jennifer Kindt, Zilber School of Public Health (student)
  • Doug M. Ihrke, PhD, College of Letters & Science