Seven in 10 employers provide wellness benefits, including flu shots, health screenings and weight management programs, which are contributing to the improved lives of their employees, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ recent survey, Wellness Programs and Value-Based Health Care.

The survey shows that wellness programs have become more popular over the past 10 years, and while nearly 60 percent of respondents have implemented new wellness programs since 2008, despite the economy, 23.7 percent of respondents have begun offering them since 2010. Nearly two-thirds of respondents have also increased their wellness budgets over the past five years.

“Without question, employers are beginning to understand the direct connection that wellness initiatives can have on both employees’ health and health care plan cost savings,” says Michael Wilson, CEO of International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Among the 21.6 percent of respondents that analyzed the return on investment, health care costs declined when wellness benefits are also offered, and 83 percent of respondents measuring ROI report positive returns. In fact, with every dollar spent on wellness initiatives, most respondents realize between $1 and $3 decreases in their overall health care costs.

“Determining ROI can be of great benefit for employers — leading to increased buy-in from organization leaders and workers,” says Julie Stich, senior information and research specialist, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “However, it’s not an easy process. ROI can be difficult to measure since health improvement may be influenced by a combination of factors and because it takes an average of three years to see cost-saving results.”

The top reasons respondents offer wellness are to help workers attain better physical health at 45.6 percent and to control health care costs at 39.8 percent. For respondents that do not provide wellness programs but plan to implement them over the next year, 50.7 percent say their motivation for doing so is to control health care costs.

The most popular wellness benefits are screening and treatment programs at 85 percent, health risk assessments at 79.9 percent, smoking cessation programs at 67.5 percent, fitness and nutrition programs at 58.6 percent, weight loss and management programs at 52.5 percent, nutrition counseling at 39.6 percent, and on-site fitness centers and equipment at 36.4 percent.

“One measure of success for a wellness program is the participation rate,” Stich says. “Organizations will not realize benefits unless there is sufficient participation.”

The highest areas of participation rates are flu shot programs at 49.6 percent, health screenings at 48.8 percent, health risk assessments at 48.2 percent and health fairs at 44.7 percent. To increase participation, 38 percent of respondents reported using gift cards and gift certificates, 36.7 percent used insurance premium reductions, 30.0 percent offered noncash incentives and 26.9 percent used cash rewards.