About 57% of larger employers are providing employees with a wellness program, up from 49% in 2006.

Meanwhile, the number of smaller employers–employers with fewer than 500 employees–that offer a wellness program has held steady at 16% during the past 2 years, according to researchers at a unit of MetLife Inc., New York.

The MetLife researchers found that 94% of employers that offer a wellness program think a wellness program can be an effective vehicle for cutting medical costs.

Only 9% of employers with wellness programs impose financial penalties on employees who do not meet wellness guidelines, and that percentage has held steady for 2 years, MetLife says.

About 80% of employers that have wellness programs are providing incentives to encourage employee participation. These include gym or fitness center discounts, gifts and prizes, and a reduction in the participating employee’s medical plan contributions.