Employers outside the United States seem to be far more interested in keeping employees healthy for the sake of keeping them healthy and working than U.S. employers are.

Researchers at Buck Consultants, New York, a unit of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Dallas, have published data supporting that conclusion in a report based on an international survey of 1,100 large employers. The participating employers employ about 10 million people in 45 countries.

In the United States, reducing health care cost increases is the top goal, by a wide margin, Buck reports.

Employers in most countries also cite reducing stress as another wellness program goal, but employers in the United States and Latin America were more likely to cite lack of exercise and poor nutrition as a top concern.

About 77% of the participating employers in North America already offer wellness programs, but the popularity of the programs is increasing in other countries, too, Buck says.

Although 24% of survey participants around the world said the economy has forced them to cut back on wellness services, but 19% said their companies have enhanced wellness programs.

The percentage of participating employers using wellness incentive awards was 56% in the United States, 42% in Asia and 33% in Australia.

In the United States, participating employers are spending an average of $163 per employee per year on wellness incentive rewards, up from an average of $100 2 years ago.

Only a minority of participants have measured the financial effects of wellness programs, but 43% of the U.S. employers that have tried to measure the effects on the health care cost trend rate say the programs have reduced the trend rate.

The typical reduction reported was about 2 percentage points to 5 percentage points per year.

Another survey report, released by the Stamford, Conn., office of Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby Inc., suggests that the cost of post-retirement health costs at large employers that still offer post-retirement health benefits will increase 6% in 2010 for retirees younger than 65 and 4% for retirees older than 65.

But many large employers have dropped retiree health benefits, and only 45% of the surveyed employers that still offer retiree health benefits still subsidize the benefits, Towers Perrin says.

“In addition, many employers have put caps on their premium subsidies and, since plan costs are now well in excess of those caps, many retirees now bear the full brunt of cost inflation,” Towers Perrin says.

Only 22% of the survey participants say their companies offer retiree health benefits subsidies for employees coming in today as new hires. Another 23% offer new hires access to a company-sponsored health plan but expect the participants to pay the full cost of the coverage.