On Kauai, many people hold down two, even three jobs. They’re at work more than they’re at home. They work more than they sleep. Their jobs can consume their lives.
So it’s critical, said Bev Brody, that their place of employment encourage a healthy lifestyle.
“More than they do anything else, they’re at work,” said Brody, Get Fit Kauai director. “If we can make their workplace a healthier place, people are going to be healthier.”
Judging from results of Get Fit Kauai’s Worksite Wellness Challenge 2014, the island is headed toward improved fitness levels.
Friday, Get Fit Kauai honored companies that participated in the challenge that began earlier this year, and handed out awards to top finishers. All told, 25 companies signed on, and 19 completed the program.
“They really dug in and took this seriously,” Brody said.
Kauai Marriott Resort placed first, while Syngenta was second and The Cliffs at Princeville was third. Each received a trophy, praise and was lauded for being a leader in encouraging and helping employees to be physically active and eat smart.
Many companies that took part in the challenge showed creativity and versatility. Some of the things they did included forming worksite wellness committees, banning tobacco products, putting in a walking/running track, replacing candy and doughnuts with fruits and vegetables, and offering to pay part of health club membership costs. Some, like the Marriott, have onsite fitness centers for employees. Others set aside quiet places where employees can unwind and reduce stress.
Jeanette Liberato, who represented The Cliffs during the awards ceremony attended by about 50 people at the Marriott Courtyard Kauai, said their worksite wellness program was received well by employees. They created a walking club and a “Healthy Tips,” newsletter, paid for employee health assessments and installed bike racks.
Liberato saw changes in employees that led to better health.
“It made a difference,” she said.
Jeff Welsh with Syngenta said they held a health fair, encouraged healthy eating, offered incentives for participating in fun runs and is putting in a walking path.
“We have a wonderful program. Syngenta is very support of wellness efforts,” he said.
Brody was pleased to hear of the success brought on by the challenge. She said America’s fitness level has declined, with more than 30 percent of the U.S. population considered obese.
“Not just overweight,” Brody said.
Americans are not exactly known for their healthy diets. Annual sales of soda in the U.S. total about $75 billion and candy sales are around $20 million. And more than 40 million people, despite documented reports on the harmful effects of tobacco, smoke cigarettes in the U.S. It’s reported that about 80 percent of adult Americans do not get recommended amounts of exercise, which includes two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, each week.
Sitting, Brody said, is the new smoking.
“How are we going to address this as a community?” she said.
The solution probably won’t start at home, but at work, she said, because that’s where people spend most of their waking hours.
“So if there’s a way we can improve the health and wellness at the worksite, we’re targeting a big section of people’s lives,” she said.
It’s starts with motivational themes — such as a picture of an $85 pair of running shoes compared to an $85,000 operating room in a hospital — and reminding people there is a cost for poor decisions when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. The result is people living less fulfilling lives due to poor health, and soaring costs for an overtaxed health care system.
The hope, too, is that positive lifestyle changes at work will follow at home, influence families and friends, and flow into the community, even changing a culture.
“We’re doing this as a preventative measure,” Brody said.
This is the second time around for Wellness Challenge, first held a few years ago with 10 companies.
“It was much more comprehensive this time,” she said.
Companies that signed up for the free Wellness Challenge in January answered about 40 questions in five areas: general health, physical activity, nutrition, stress release and tobacco cessation. Scores ranged from zero to 125. Then, they were given time and opportunity to make changes or additions to improve their worksite wellness over the following months.
They answered those same questions in October when the program ended. Those whose scores showed the most improvement did best.
“They weren’t competing with other people,” Brody said. “They were competing with themselves.”
Deborah Crippen of the Lawai Beach Resort, which finished fifth in the challenge, said along with offering a variety of programs, times and activities to involve as many employees as possible, it’s important to provide support so people don’t fall back on old habits. For instance, Lawai Beach Resort is considering an “Ohana Olympics” that would involve families.
“Find the people who are going to support you when you need it most,” she said.
Scott McFarland, interim CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corporations Kauai Region, said employees at both Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital and Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital took part in the challenge. They were encouraged to walk rather than use the elevator, be mindful of their food selection for meals, be aware of portion control and be sure to have sufficient servings of fruits and vegetables.
“There was mindful, friendly nudging to help people make better decisions about their health,” he said.
HHSC on Kauai will continue to monitor and promote worksite wellness.
“We’re definitely committed,” McFarland said.
Get Fit Kauai will assess this year’s challenge, consider ways to improve it, and may do it again next year. It urges companies and employees to get started toward a healthy lifestyle now, rather than waiting for a New Year’s resolution.
“Remember, no matter what you do, it does make a difference,” said Sue Smith, Get Fit Kauai worksite wellness leadership team member.