Podcast: Wellness programs – do they work?

Michael Joyce is a multimedia producer at HealthNewsReview.org and tweets as @mlmjoyce

Wellness programs in the United States are an $8 billion industry.

Over 50 million Americans are enrolled in such programs. They are as variable in size and quality as the companies and organizations that offer them.

In this podcast you’ll hear 3 voices:

  • A skeptic who thinks the vast majority of these programs don’t work and may even be harmful.
  • A professor who helped bring down a program that illustrated what a wellness program should not be.
  • A health policy specialist who explains why it’s so difficult to gauge whether wellness programs are really working or not.


Some resources:

  • A list of the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Screening Guidelines
  • A 2014 paper from Ron Goetzel, PhD of Johns Hopkins asserting that wellness programs do work.
  • A 2014 article from the New York Times, and a 2016 article from Slate asserting that wellness programs don’t work.

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Comments (2)

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Andrew DePristo

April 22, 2017 at 6:56 am

I listed to this podcast and really didn’t hear anything that indicates these programs could be harmful to one’s health except some offhand comment about people losing and then regaining weight. If one eliminates the problem at Penn State (i.e., intrusive questions and coerced participation) and doesn’t try to measure whether each program is good for all people, doesn’t the fact that the programs push the 3 M’s (mediterranean, movement, moderation in eating) mean that the participants have to benefit? What possible harm can come from such a wellness program?


    Gary Schwitzer

    April 22, 2017 at 7:43 am


    Thanks for your note.

    The focus of the podcast – and the headline of the surrounding blog post – was “do they work?” – not “are they harmful?” And I don’t believe there was a single reference to the point you raise – “these programs could be harmful to one’s health.”

    However, in the body of the podcast, was this section, capturing some of the beliefs of Al Lewis – one of 3 people interviewed in the podcast:

    “What he considers harmful are the following: programs that don’t follow the screening guidelines of the US Preventive Services Task Force and screen way too much. Also, programs that are involuntary and use a punitive approach like the now-defunct Penn State program did. Finally, wellness programs that incentivize unhealthy behaviors like competitive weight loss programs, but then turn around and fail to provide up-to-date, evidence-based health advice. Then there is the issue of regulation. How much training and oversight is there in the wellness industry?”

    There are legitimate questions about whether these programs work – especially in the ways that they are promoted. So there is potential harm in devoting time and money and institutional or corporate commitment to programs that may not deliver all that is promised.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher, HealthNewsReview.org