Participation Health Risk Improvement Study

StayWell’s research study discussed below, “Measuring participation in employer-sponsored health and well-being programs: A participation index and its association with health risk change,” was recently named as a "Paper of the Year" by the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The awards honor some of the journal’s best scientists, especially those who bring outstanding humanity to their field and bigheartedness to their writing. Studies are recognized for:

  • Addressing a topic of timely importance in health promotion
  • Stating a clear research question and having methodologies that are well executed
  • Being cited and/or downloaded often
  • Having findings that offer a unique contribution to the literature
  • Being well-written and enjoyable to read

By Erin Seaverson, senior director, research and evaluation at StayWell

Getting high levels of employee participation in well-being programs has been a top priority for employers for a long time. It’s also been used as a main indicator of program success. But defining and measuring meaningful participation has remained a constant challenge.

Our recent study in the American Journal of Health Promotion aimed to address the calls for more expansive research on program participation and more compelling statistical measures. Partnering with several StayWell colleagues, our team wanted to expand on the definition of program participation and assess the impact of participation on health risk status.

What we did

Our team analyzed data that captured the activity of nearly 40,000 program participants over a three-year period. The study included participants from six companies of different sizes who completed a health assessment in each year from 2014 to 2016.

We also leveraged the HERO/PHA Measurement Standards to create a new index of program participation and explored its relationship with health risk status. While traditional participation measures have generally taken a “did it” or “did not” approach, we expanded the scope to include levels from minimal to maximum participation based on the number of program components employees interacted with, or in other words, program “dose” or intervention exposure.

What we discovered

The results of the study confirmed:

  • There was a significant relationship between program participation and health risk improvement (The more employees participated, the more likely they were to have their number of health risks reduced)
  • Each unit increase in participation yielded a reduction of 0.038 risks
  • Employees with more health risks decreased their risk scores by a greater degree than those with lower health risks
  • People have predispositions for specific types of program participation that persist and guide how they’ll get involved with their well-being
  • Participation happens on a continuum, which goes in contrast to the black-and-white categories of measurement that are often used in well-being programs

Well-being program participation drives health risk improvement

What’s the bottom line?

It stands to reason, that the more we can get people to connect and engage in well-being programs, the more we can positively influence their health in terms of risk reduction. It’s a step in the right direction to help solve the problem researchers and organizations have had in understanding the relationship between participation and subsequent risk reduction and/or behavior change.

This is also an opportunity for employers to review how they’re communicating with employees about well-being. The results can be used to recommend specific programs to individuals that will have the greatest possible health impact, ultimately making well-being programs more targeted, effective, and valuable.

Download the full study or a quick facts sheet to learn more. Additional information on the American Journal of Health Promotion "Papers of the Year" winners for 2019 is available on LinkedIn.