Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 12, 2013

Munson tackles obesity epidemic

TRAVERSE CITY — Munson Medical Center aims to scale down the obesity epidemic by working with area employers, schools, health care providers and its own 4,000-plus workers.

"Every year we see (obesity rates) getting worse and worse and worse," said Munson's Diane Butler, who is leading the overall effort. "As a result, we as a hospital feel we have to do something to address the issue."

Michigan ranks as the fifth fattest state with 65.5 percent of its citizens overweight or obese. The five-county area weighs in at just over 68 percent overweight, or roughly 114,000 people, Butler said, citing a 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.

Munson's new initiative grew from ShapeMichigan, a November gathering of about 260 community leaders, health experts, and Priority Health representatives. Participants watched highlights of HBO's "Weight of the Nation."

Afterward, 75 people were so moved they pledged to take action. Some will work with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce to reach out to area businesses.

The team will borrow ideas from companies such as Hagerty Insurance Agency, an early advocate of employee fitness. Each spring, for example, Hagerty provides pedometers to employees with a challenge to walk 10,000 steps each day.

"It gets people excited about spring, getting outside. People go all out," said Susan Vigland, the company's training and wellness manager and leader of its women's cycling team.

The program motivates folks to walk at lunch or after work; top striders receive prizes, she said.

"It's easy. Any business could do it," Vigland said.

Hagerty recently opened its own gym inside its new Lake Street building and provides a wide range of fitness classes.

"It makes it super convenient for people," she said.

Hagerty also provides its roughly 500 employees with on-campus health screenings and aggregates their health data to gauge its wellness efforts. The investment is worth it, Vigland said.

"Research tells you that people who are healthy and fit perform better, work harder, and they're happier at work," Vigland said.

Nine months ago, Lyndsay Bosley began working at Munson in the newly created job of wellness director. She was directed to help create and oversee MyWellness, an ambitious program that includes healthy cafeteria choices, lunchtime fitness lectures, a discounted membership to the hospital's on-site gym, fitness classes, and on-site Weight Watcher's classes.

"We feel strongly that we need to start with our own people, not only for their health and well being, but to also set an example to the community," Butler said.

In March, Munson employees can get free pedometers along with a 10,000-step challenge. Bosley will invite employees to attempt a 5K run this summer.

About 230 employees joined a weight management program, and Munson provided a $100 reimbursement, Bosley said.

"It's January," Bosley said. "People are ready for a change, excited, committed to their new resolutions. The response has been overwhelmingly positive."

The chamber team will focus its efforts on outreach and awareness to small businesses, which can't afford to hire a wellness director or expensive programs, said the chamber's Laura Galbraith.

Galbraith said businesses can take advantage of insurance products that reward employee fitness.

And there are inexpensive strategies, such as getting employees to set fitness goals together, Butler said.

Ultimately, it's up to employees to step up to the plate and do the work.

"We're all accountable for ourselves," Butler said.

Read about one man's success story here.

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