Businesses try to promote fitness, healthy eating in workplace

Businesses try to promote fitness, healthy eating in workplace

by Robyn Shelton

The Orlando Sentinel

MOTOROLA BUILT its employees a fitness center where they can lift weights and run on treadmills. Florida Power & Light revamped its cafeteria menus to include meals that are less than 400 calories. Anheuser-Busch raffled away a $5,000 vacation for people who got certain health checks.

Pointing to these efforts, health officials Wednesday called for more businesses to take part in the fight against obesity. They said a worker's extra pounds contribute to numerous medical problems as well as the company's fiscal health.

"It's clear to me that we have an issue in our midst -- obesity -- that is a rapidly evolving threat to your workplace, to your productivity, to your bottom line," said Dr. John Agwunobi, secretary of the Florida Department of Health. He presided over the daylong conference at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort. It was the first in a series of obesity summits planned through early next year in cities throughout Florida.

The kickoff meeting focused on what businesses can do to prevent weight gain and improve overall health of the work force. Future gatherings will look at the roles of schools, health professionals and families in combating the obesity epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 59 million Americans are obese. Within Florida alone, more than half of the adult population -- 57 percent -- is overweight or obese.

Agwunobi said every segment of society must be involved in the effort to slow the growing number of people at unhealthy weights.

"Winning this fight is going to require that we come at it from as many different angles as possible," he said.Businesses can help by promoting healthier eating habits and increased physical activity, fostering even small changes, said Claire Smith, a registered nurse who runs wellness programs at Anheuser-Busch's brewery in Jacksonville.

The company's initiatives have included a takeoff on the Daytona 500 called the "BUD Wellness 500" in which employees have attended seminars, worked toward healthy goals they set for themselves and visited their doctors for preventive care.

At the Motorola site in Plantation, the company offers $240 annually for employees to spend on fitness-club memberships. They also run their own club on site that includes 6,500-square feet of space for exercise, massage and other health services.

Anthony Carroll, who manages the Worksite Wellness program at Motorola, said companies could save money in the form of lower health insurance costs for employees, less absenteeism and greater productivity.

"We've found that for every dollar spent at Motorola on wellness programs, you could save $3.93," Carroll said.

FPL also runs initiatives meant to boost activity levels and improve nutrition, said Penny Levy, the company's nutrition services coordinator.

FPL has added healthy snacks to its vending machines and offers low-calorie meals in the cafeteria that include steamed vegetables and lean meats or fish. The hope is that people will develop weight-friendly lifestyles.

"Our goal is to provide the tools that drive the right behaviors and maintain health," Levy said.

Published October 20, 2004