Results of Wellness Programs Worth the Weight

work outYour loss can be your employer’s gain.

Companies increasingly are seeing the benefit of healthy living among their workers.

So when Jo Anne Ragan decided to join an online version of Weight Watchers a couple years ago to lose about 115 pounds, her employer gave her support at work to reach her goal.

A staff health and wellness coordinator at InfoCision Management Corp. helped her design a workout routine and encouraged her to participate in classes and use the on-site fitness facility during lunch breaks and after work.
Her dedication paid off.

Ragan, a 32-year-old account executive in InfoCision’s direct mail division, recently received national recognition for reaching her target weight of 160 pounds.

Her story is featured as one of six “Inspiring Stories of Change” contest winners in this month’s edition of Weight Watchers Magazine.

Ragan dropped from a size 24 in 2007 to her current size 8.

“When I was in college, I lost weight but I didn’t do it right and I wasn’t working out properly,” she said. “Now I’ve got some muscle tone. It’s a big difference.”

In recent years, InfoCision has been aggressively encouraging all of its 4,000 employees to embrace a culture of wellness.

The telemarketing firm, headquartered in Bath Township, Ohio, offers on-site fitness classes and a workout facility that can be used after hours and during work breaks.

Ragan said she had struggled her entire life with efforts to lose weight.

“I just got to the point where I was tired of being overweight,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m done with this.’ I need to make a change in my life.”

Weight Watchers offered a virtual online support community and step-by-step tools to educate her how to make better food choices and lose weight at a safe pace, not a crash diet, she said.

InfoCision then provided the convenience of working out at work, she said. Ragan pays $14 per pay every two weeks to use the fitness center and participate in classes.

“It’s a phenomenal perk,” she said. “They promote a healthy lifestyle. I might not have been as successful without them backing me.”

Ragan now encourages other co-workers who are trying to lose weight, said Steve Brubaker, InfoCision’s senior vice president of corporate affairs.

“We’re so proud of her,” said Brubaker, who himself has lost about 70 pounds in recent years.

“She’s done such a great job,” he said. “We encourage everyone who is interested to participate. If you get up and you feel good, it’s going to benefit your whole life.”

As workers participate in weight loss and fitness initiatives, companies are finding they can shed money off their health claims.

Companies increasingly are launching wellness initiatives to lower medical bills.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 57 percent of all companies that provide health insurance offer at least one wellness program ? items such as gym membership discounts or on-site exercise facilities, weight loss and smoking cessation programs and Web-based health resources.

Studies have shown that for every $1 an employer spends on wellness programs, the company can expect a $3 to $6 return, according to Hewitt Associates, a national consulting firm.

Those returns can come in the form of improved short-term and long-term health, reduced absenteeism, boosted productivity and a quicker return to work from disability, according to Hewitt.

InfoCision’s Brubaker estimates the company’s combined wellness initiatives result in “seven figures a year in savings when you look at the whole program overall and what it means to our corporate bottom line.”

Since InfoCision launched its focus on health and wellness several years ago, its health premium increases have slowed to the single figures instead of the previous double-digit hikes, he said.

“We know that there’s a definite return on investment,” he said. “We want our employees to be healthy and happy and successful. So anything we can do to encourage that, we’re going to do it. It’s a win-win.”

SOURCE: Akron Beacon Journal. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (c) 2010.