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School district, LMHS earn highest level of achievement in Fit-Friendly program

By Staff | Oct 24, 2011

The Lee County School District and Lee Memorial Health System were recognized last week for reaching the highest level of achievement for the American Heart Association Fit-Friendly Company program.

Reagan Goldberg, vice president of Southwest Florida Field Operations for the American Heart Association, said there are 14 Fit-Friendly Companies in Southwest Florida that focus on three main areas – culture, physical activity and nutrition in the workplace.

The program began in 2008 when the national American Heart Association wanted to address obesity, which led the organization to begin focusing on prevention.

Goldberg said the American Heart Association wants to improve cardiovascular health by 20 percent by encouraging individuals to take care of things now, so they can live longer, healthier lives.

Lisa Brown, employee wellness coordinator for the Lee County School District, said that health is a personal choice, but in order for the nation to meet the Healthy People 2020 objectives, much of society must step up to the plate and do their part to provide a positive health influence on those personal choices.

Goldberg said a lot of times you can change the culture at home by changing the culture at work because individuals will implement what they are doing at work at home for their families.

This year, the Commons Club, Hodges University and LeeSar Inc. are the three new groups that joined the Fit-Friendly Companies at the gold level status.

Chico’s FAS earned gold level status and earned the Workplace Innovation Award for the current Fit-Friendly cycle.

The Lee County School District and the Lee Memorial Health System achieved the highest level status of platinum.

“Being recognized as a Fit-Friendly business is a huge congratulations to all of our employees who are working hard to make healthy lifestyle choices,” Brown said. “Applying for and receiving the recognition is a great way to recognize and thank our employees who have made their personal health a priority.”

The school district received platinum status in 2009 and 2010 as well.

Those who receive platinum status measure the outcomes of their wellness efforts.

Brown said by using ActiveLee they can protect the health of the district’s most valuable asset by providing tools and resources that encourage healthy choices and foster a healthy work culture.

“If we were surrounded by positive health influences at every corner, including the workplace, it would be much easier to make the right choices,” she said.

The next health challenge for the school district, Out Island Adventure, begins Monday. Brown said more than 800 participants are on the starting line for the virtual challenge that travels to 18 islands of the Bahamas in 56 days.

Sally Jackson, system director of government and community relations for Lee Memorial Health System, said LMHS became involved in the program as soon as the American Heart Association launched it almost four years ago.

At the same time the Heart Association began its walking campaign, Lee Memorial conducted its community health visioning project. The project showed that health improvement was the top priority for the entire community and employees. Jackson said LMHS wanted to see an increase in physical activity, along with healthy habits of food and nutrition.

From that project, Jackson said Lee Memorial developed its own programs to improve wellness for their employees.

Every year companies have to reapply to become Fit-Friendly to show a continued improvement of culture, physical activity and nutrition in the workplace.

“Every year you have to show some additional improvement and additional participation,” Jackson said, so you can always obtain a higher level of achievement. “You have to continue to get better.”

She said this year LMHS added a few upgrades to its program that allowed it to be recognized at the platinum level for the first time, which they are excited about.

The cafeteria was one of the areas that experienced a change, so Lee Memorial could revamp the nutrition in the food served. Jackson said LMHS now offers healthy options through its Fresh Harvest program, which is available for anyone who eats in the cafeteria.

“For every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner – there are items developed and identified in the cafeteria for the Fresh Harvest choices,” Jackson said. “The criteria established keeps the fat low, sodium low and calories low.”

She said the cafeteria is on a five-week rotational menu, so people do not get tired of eating the same thing all the time. The new items on the menu meet a healthy standard of intake, along with the right nutrition.

Additional staff was hired to also improve the wellness program with Lee Memorial Health System.

Jackson said Lee Memorial invested in the wellness program by hiring a vice president of health and wellness, along with two wellness coaches for its employees.

She said Lee Memorial offers a wellness assessment on an annual basis free of charge to its employees. The employees can either talk with their physician about the assessment or meet with a wellness coach to develop a program at no cost.

When an employee has an assessment done, he or she receives free healthy bucks, a $150 Visa card that can be used to purchase Fresh Harvest items in the cafeteria, along with a membership at the wellness centers or programs that relate to wellness.

“We hope to continue to encourage more employees to take advantage of it,” Jackson said.

Goldberg said companies that are interested in becoming Fit-Friendly can apply online at www.heart.org/fitfriendly. She encourages everyone to apply and if they do not meet the criteria for nutrition, physical activity and culture, they can definitely begin to implement those areas into the workplace. The next application period is in January.

Applications can be filled out twice a year.

Brown said the application process is relatively simple if you do a good job of tracking data throughout the year.

“It is just a matter of pulling data from the annual Employee Wellness Annual Outcome Report to illustrate what programming we provide to encourage behavior change as well as the related cost savings,” she said.