January 19, 2012

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A Healthy Competition

Put Your Company’s Weight Behind a Worthy Cause

Melanie Johnson

January 19, 2012

It’s a case of bad news, good news. The bad news is that obesity continues to be a growing concern, not just in Utah, but globally. The good news is that many organizations are taking a stance against the epidemic by sponsoring corporate health and wellness programs. As the cost of health care continues to rise and many of the claims are associated with obesity, several Utah companies have turned to corporate-sponsored health and wellness programs in hope of offsetting some of the costs associated with obesity. “Well-designed worksite wellness programs provide a long-term approach to a healthy workforce,” says Joni Alonso, co-chair of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Cannon Wellness Council. “Personal motivation can only take us so far when it comes to being more active. We need to have environments that help make activity a part of everyday life,” adds Brett McIff, physical activity coordinator for the Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Program at the Utah Department of Health. Clearlink Technologies, an integrated local marketing firm, is one company making strides toward worksite health and wellness. And for Clearlink, having a corporate health and wellness program has proven profitable in more ways than one. The Challenge At Salt Lake-based Clearlink, employees are rewarded for their losses—losses in pounds and body fat, that is. More than 30 Clearlink employees participated in the company’s second annual fitness competition, dubbed Pound for Pound. Together the group lost more than 250 pounds. The Pound for Pound contest ran for four months, from January 15 to April 15 of 2010. Clearlink began the program by motivating employees with the promise of cash prizes. The company also facilitated a healthy, competitive atmosphere that proved to be a great motivator for employees to get back into shape. Employees could use any method they wanted to lost weight. Some working together, others working alone. James Katsanevas, marketing coordinator, found success by dramatically changing his diet and incorporating hard-core exercise into the mix. His diet reform included eating five small meals per day. He also restricted his diet to only protein after 7:00 p.m. He also incorporated a rigid workout schedule. Other employees tried various workout routines and reduced their calorie intake dramatically. Some employees trained for marathons and others rode their bike to work. As opposed to making a fast-food run during the lunch hour, a cluster of Clearlink employees assembled each day and dined at Subway Restaurant because of its low-calorie, low-fat options. From there, a Subway lunch group was formed; employees purchased a foot-long sandwich, and ate six inches at 11:00 a.m. and another six inches at 2:00 p.m. They coined the regimen “six now, six later.” The Results A male and female winner was selected in three categories: lowest fat percentage, total percentage of weight lost, and total body change. The reward: cash. More than $8,500 was divided among the top six winners—or shall we say, losers. Katsanevas, won in two categories: most pounds lost and biggest loss of body fat. He dropped his body fat percentage from 25 to 7.3 and feels great. “Six months ago, I thought those numbers would never be attainable,” he exclaims. The Pound for Pound program went one step further—for every pound of fat lost and every pound of muscle gained during the competition, Clearlink donated $10 to the Utah Food Bank. When the three-month program was complete, the losses were totaled and the gains for the Utah Food Bank equaled more than $12,000 in donations. “We want our employees to engage in life-changing experiences and I believe this program accomplishes this two-fold—it benefits both our employees and the Food Bank,” says Clearlink CEO, Phil Hansen. Steps Toward Change In a day and age when health care is a hot topic all the way from the corporate boardroom to the family dinner table, employers and employees are feeling the pinch. Increased utilization of health care services drives up the cost, not to mention overuse of medical claims, doctor visits and medications. Nearly everyone seems concerned with the financial burden incurred when it comes to health care costs and most, if not all, are looking for ways to reduce those costs. According to the Utah Department of Health, an estimated 70 percent of the nation's medical costs are lifestyle related. And since employees generally spend 50 percent or more of their waking hours at work, getting back to the basics of a healthy diet and regular exercise is the direction many organizations are taking. Due to the amount of time employees spend at work, the workplace is a logical and effective location to target health related behaviors. It just makes sense. Along with lower health care costs, Clearlink has found that productivity increases and stress decreases when employees are healthy. Beyond these benefits, workplace health and wellness programs may enhance the overall productivity of an organization. And employers may also see benefits in decreased rates of illness, reduced employee absenteeism and increased well-being. As a result of the Pound for Pound challenge, Clearlink has seen performance and attendance increase among those who participated, according to Bret Fitzgerald, Clearklink’s vice president of business development. “One of our employees who participated in Pound for Pound program has since become one of the top sales reps in the company. His numbers have improved significantly.”
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