Employers are uniquely positioned to positively impact public health through the wellness programs they offer. In the United States, cardiovascular disease is a major public health crisis. One in every four deaths is caused by heart disease—killing more than 650,000 Americans each year.

By promoting healthy behaviors, could employer-sponsored wellness programs be an effective intervention to lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the U.S.? A groundbreaking new meta-analysis compiled all of the research on the subject from the last 30 years to find an answer.

Researchers assessed the magnitude of impact that workplace wellness programs could have on a broad set of health indicators (diet, weight, etc.) to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This was the first study of its kind. No other meta-analysis has quantitatively measured the benefits of wellness programs on dietary health outcomes.

In order to generate the most reliable results, researchers only included studies that met a specific set of criteria. Their initial search returned over 10,000 relevant studies on the subject of workplace wellness, but only 121 studies published between 1990 and 2020 were included in the final analysis.

The meta-analysis excluded research that was purely observational or lacked a control group, allowing the authors to link positive health outcomes to wellness programs specifically, and not other external factors. Researchers also only included studies which analyzed multi-component wellness interventions, as these programs are highly recommended and most likely to be successful.

Ultimately, the systemic review showed that workplace wellness programs effectively reduced a number of cardiometabolic risk factors, including systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. The researchers also saw positive improvements in diastolic blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, and HDL cholesterol as a result of workplace wellness interventions.

How does workplace wellness effectively reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? It all starts with nutrition.

The meta-analysis showed that workplace wellness programs significantly improved daily fruit and vegetable consumption, leading to positive changes in body-mass index and waist circumference. To a lesser extent, wellness programs even improved total fat intake and saturated fat intake per day.

Not only was this the largest study of its kind, it also included a wide variety of workplaces, employee populations and intervention components. More than 50 different wellness interventions were included in the final analysis, which researchers classified into nine different domains. These nine domains provide a useful starting point for employers and HR professionals seeking to expand their wellness program.

The study’s authors identified the following nine intervention domains: health screenings, individual education, group education, healthy food environments, financial incentives, physical activity, labeling, mindfulness, and employee advisory committees.

The results of this groundbreaking meta-analysis demonstrate that employers can have a significant impact on their employees’ cardiovascular health, which is a hopeful conclusion. It also shows that the most effective workplace wellness programs combine multiple interventions. Your employees’ needs are not one-size-fits-all and your wellness program shouldn’t be either.