Can your company force you to be healthy?

(LifeWire) — Three years ago, Danilo Reyes, a test engineer for Intel, received a $50 gift card from his employer to take a health-assessment test. Reyes figured that he’d pass the test with flying colors — he doesn’t smoke or drink — and Intel made it easy by offering the free test at his office in Hillsboro, Oregon.
Rising health care costs are prompting firms to offer wellness programs for employees.

Rising health care costs are prompting firms to offer wellness programs for employees.

But when Reyes received the results, the diagnosis was a complete shock: His cholesterol and blood-sugar levels were abnormally high.

“It turned out I was a borderline diabetic and at high risk for a heart attack,” says Reyes, 41. “I was terrified.”

Motivated by his diagnosis, Reyes consulted his family doctor, who put him on medicine to lower his cholesterol. A health coach at Intel, part of the company’s wellness program, helped by advising Reyes on joining a gym and eating better. Over time, Reyes says, he’s seen tangible benefits and shed some excess pounds.

“Getting healthy even inspired me to start up a hobby,” he says. “I take karate now, as well as going to the gym. I’m happy and healthy.”

Steps toward wellness

Almost a third of companies offering health insurance benefits to their employees also provide a wellness program of some sort. Fitness, smoking cessation and weight-loss programs are provided most frequently, according to 2006 employer health benefits survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The telephone survey contacted 2,122 randomly selected public and private employers.

While most companies say they have a genuine concern for their employees’ well being, the rising cost of health care is obviously part of the equation. Obesity-related health issues, for example, cost American companies approximately $13 billion dollars per year, according to the Washington D.C.-based National Business Group on Health, a non-profit organization representing large employers on health policy issues.

“Health and wellness programs at work are a win/win situation for everybody,” says Richard Taylor, vice president of human resources at Intel. “We keep our insurance costs down, and the employees are offered free health and wellness opportunities.”

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