Wellness Councils of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes workplace wellness programs, reports health care expenses are the single biggest portion of the U.S. economy — $1.4 trillion spent in 2002. Of that amount, companies and corporations picked up $444 billion of the tab, according to an article in theFlorida News-Press.

The future doesn’t look any better with health care costs expected to pass the $2 trillion mark by 2007, industry figures report.

“I think you’re seeing American businesses at the crossroads,” says David Hunnicutt, the president of WELCOA, based in Omaha, Neb. He says surveys show 88 percent of U.S. businesses now offer some sort of health or fitness promotion, but most are as simple as a poster hanging in a lunchroom or a brochure included with a paycheck. The number of workplaces that offer real, organized health and fitness programs on the job is about ten percent of U.S. companies, he says.

Businesses are learning that fit employees make better workers, he says. Union Pacific Railroad, a leader in workplace wellness, initially invested $2.5 million in health and fitness promotions for employees. That same year, the company saw a $50-million drop in health care costs.

“Twenty years ago, people were wondering what wellness was,” Hunnicutt says. “Now companies inherently know that wellness programs are a big part of the solution, and they’re scrambling to implement them.”