Wellness programs that reward healthy behaviors have become an important tool in addressing the rise of preventable, chronic conditions that threaten to overwhelm our healthcare system.

The health challenges facing our nation are well documented. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than two in three adult Americans are overweight or obese. And critical factors such as poor nutrition, smoking, stress and physical inactivity are driving the rapid growth of chronic conditions—such as diabetes, heart disease and pulmonary disease—that account for the majority of our nation’s healthcare expenditures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wellness programs promote healthier lifestyles and reduce long-term costs by encouraging people to exercise more often, eat healthier and make more conscious lifestyle choices. These behavior changes can have a tangible impact on healthcare costs. Compiled research shows that employers save an average of $5.81 for every dollar invested in workplace wellness programs, with the savings coming in the form of better employee health and fewer medical claims, according to a 2012 article in The American Journal of Health Promotion.

Much of the conversation on healthcare reform discusses the need to realign incentives in the health system. The system should pay doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers based on the quality, outcomes and efficiency of care they deliver, instead of merely the volume of services they provide. In much the same way, we must realign incentives around individuals’ behavior by rewarding positive choices that result in better health.

We must continue to encourage the adoption of wellness programs, while at the same time ensuring that they incorporate reasonable alternatives so that everyone—regardless of limitations beyond their control—can earn rewards and reap the benefits that such programs offer.

January 1, 2017