After all, Americans didn't just wake up one morning and discover they were overweight, or getting older, or addicted to nicotine. These health issues are the result of years, if not decades, of unhealthy choices that people have made. To expect that an employee is going to lose 30 pounds in the next six months because you're paying half of his gym fee is not realistic.
That doesn't mean that we should give up on the wellness movement. The fact is, we are seeing progress in societal wellness. The "obesity epidemic" has flattened—not fattened—over the last 10 years.
Fewer than one in five Americans now smoke—down from more than 42% of the population in 1965. That's taken more than 40 years, and a lot of money, but I don't believe anyone would argue that the effort wasn't worth it—or that more needs to be done.
The employer-sponsored wellness movement is still quite young. As the movement matures, it will become more effective as it finds the right combination of incentives and benefits that will nudge employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. Now is not the time to get discouraged. Now is the time to take the long view.