One “critical” aspect to every business around the globe is having a successful wellness program, says one expert, “and there is a whole lot the U.S. can learn from what works around the world.”

Reducing health care costs has, by far, been the overwhelming reason U.S. employers have implemented wellness programs, says Dave Ratcliffe, a principal in the health practice at Buck Consultants at Xerox. In other countries, employers are using wellness programs to improve employee morale and to reduce sick days and presenteeism.

On a global scale, six of seven regions have more than 50% of employers offering incentives tied to wellness, and with the U.S. noting a 90% rate of offering incentives, it raises the question of do they work? “We say ‘yes’,” Ratcliffe adds.

When it comes to wellness incentives programs, top rewards include free or low cost preventive services. Other wellness program components gaining popularity each year include health risk assessments, workplace challenges and preventive exams, he said, speaking Thursday during a webinar sponsored by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

Also see: Wellness programs adopt outside-the-box solutions

Yet even with all the wellness programs in place, the U.S. still ranks 11th when it comes to citizens’ overall health, with health expenditures per capita totaling close to $8,500 in 2011.

Of the 15 highest chronic conditions, accounting for 80% of overall health care costs, there are eight contributing factors that can be modified through successful wellness programs, including poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, lack of health screenings, poor stress management, poor standard of care, insufficient sleep and excessive alcohol consumption.

In setting up an effective program, Joe Ellis, senior vice president at CBIZ, offers a few tips. The first, and most important, element of any wellness program is CEO support, Ellis says. “If you don’t have supportive communication from your CEO, it will not succeed.”

In addition, tapping a wellness leader, conducting interest surveys and sending out monthly newsletters are all avenues to pursue, he says.  

Also see: Wellness programs in 2015: What employers need to know

“When you look at your vision for your wellness program, wellness is a way of life. Not a one-time activity,” says Ralph Colao, health and performance officer on the employee benefits team at HUB International. “It’s part of the identity of the person involved.”

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