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Innovations in Wellness: Public/Private Initiatives

This is one of the Innovations in Wellness selected by editors of Human Resource Executive® magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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Peer pressure. It's the new weapon in wellness, as public-private partnerships attempt to create ways to inform and motivate entire communities about the importance of losing weight, exercising more and doing all things healthy.

"We are a social species and we do what people around us do, to some degree," says Dr. Marc Manley, chief prevention officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Dr. Roger Merrill, chief medical officer at Perdue Farms Inc. in Salisbury, Md., agrees. "We find that doing something that makes an [employee] healthier makes his spouse healthier, too."

In Minnesota, that philosophy led to the Biggest Loser Minnesota competition, which last year drew together General Mills, Cargill, UnitedHealth Group, BCBS of Minnesota, Medtronic, the State of Minnesota, HealthPartners and Target.

The competition, a project of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota, included 10,000 employees, who collectively lost 37,000 pounds and exercised 16 million minutes, according to Kyle Rolfing, CEO of RedBrick Health, which provided the technology used by contestants to sign up and track data.

This year, the challenge was extended to individuals and groups throughout the state.

In Oklahoma City, Mayor Mick Cornett initiated "This City is Going on a Diet" -- an effort that not only engaged HR leaders in the business community, but also resulted in a new Taco Bell menu option (Fresco style: no sour cream or cheese) and taxpayer-approved initiatives for a new park as well as pedestrian-friendly streets and trails. It also led to 43,000 participants losing 600,000 pounds.

Mike Panas, head of Healthwise Champions, a nonprofit organization that provided free software for the challenge to help participants track their weight, exercise and medical data, says that too often, HR leaders "are just focused on [the health of] their employee population."

Those efforts won't succeed, he says, unless awareness and motivation are extended into all neighborhoods and into all business, social and religious groups.

That message is getting through, he says, noting that Healthwise Champions is providing its technology to the Calhoun County (Michigan) Challenge (The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in Battle Creek, is one of 15 sponsors); Get Lean Tulsa (in Oklahoma, which includes county and city agencies as well as educational and business organizations) and Live Fit Cape Fear (North Carolina).

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Another very recent, very similar yet totally independent, public-private partnership is the Vitality City Initiative in the cities of Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, outside of Los Angeles, which involves business leaders in the area -- mostly small businesses -- as well as government and social organizations.

It's a partnership of Healthways Inc., a healthcare company, and Blue Zones, an organization that provides data-based findings from the world's longest-living populations.

And the efforts continue, including a state program to develop wellness standards for Healthiest Maryland Businesses to health fairs and initiatives from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Perdue Farms is involved in both of those efforts, Merrill says, adding that the company's strategy is to "Touch the people we can readily touch with the idea [of wellness, because] that does spread into the community."

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