$1 Million "Wellness Works" Initiative Nets Additional $500,000

By Lois Baker

Release Date: July 27, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Western New York Wellness Works, a $1 million initiative funded by State Senator Mary Lou Rath to promote company-sponsored wellness programs, will receive another $500,000 to support the program in its second year, Rath announced today at a "healthy" company picnic at Greater Buffalo Savings Bank, one of the participating companies.

An assessment of preliminary data from the 13 participating Western New York companies and organizations, conducted by the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions at the end of the first year in June 2005, showed a positive relationship between organizations concerned with wellness and the health of their workers.

"This program has demonstrably improved the health and well-being of many Western New Yorkers, while at the same time reducing health-care costs for both government and business in this community," said Rath.

"This additional funding will enable companies participating in the Western New York Wellness Works Program, like Greater Buffalo Savings Bank, to build on the tremendous success they have achieved through this unique partnership between the University at Buffalo, the state and the private sector."

Joan Dorn, Ph.D., UB associate professor of social and preventive medicine and principal investigator on the project, said everyone involved in the project is extremely grateful for Rath's continued commitment and financial support of the Wellness Works initiative.

"This new funding will enable us to document that worksite-wellness programs can reduce individual health risks and save employers money on escalating insurance costs," she said.

"We will be able to disseminate the outcomes of this initiative throughout the region, the state and the nation," said Dorn. "The data will be used to educate employers, employees, researchers and policymakers about the money-saving and life-saving benefits of wellness programs."

The wellness programs, designed individually by each company, address a variety of health issues, including nutrition, physical activity, weight management and stress reduction.

Companies conducting the most well-organized programs had fewer overweight employees, early results showed, and their employees also had a lower body mass index. More of their employees reported exercising three or more times a week and the company lost fewer work days due to illness than companies with a less-healthy working environment.

Dorn said the new funds will be used to support a regional resource center, including a library of scientific data and wellness experts for use by employers and legislators; to develop a regional policy academy to introduce and brief officials about current research in employees health and wellness; and to conduct a detailed analysis of baseline and follow-up data, particularly on the complex issue of health care costs.