Wellness programs take off in southeast Missouri

Last fall, Missouri's Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce launched an employee health and wellness initiative to encourage local workers to get fit, eat healthily and participate in community events, according to the Southeast Missourian.

The wellness program, Get Fit Sikeston, is primarily a workplace fitness competition that encourages teams of employees to participate in fundraisers, bike rides, charity walks and similar community events. However, as an incentive for developing healthy behavior unrelated to physical activity, teams of employees can also earn points in other areas such as nutrition.

Before the program began, workers were offered free blood pressure checks and body mass index measurements, the news source reports. Lipid panels and glucose screenings were also available for a charge.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Missy Marshall initially aimed to enroll at least 100 employees in the program. Its popularity exceeded expectations by a considerable amount, and more than 400 workers signed up.

According to Doug Friend, city manager of Sikeston, some employees who participated in the program lost weight, quit smoking and made other healthy lifestyle alterations. Additionally, team-building exercises resulted in a higher level of camaraderie between workers, as well as giving employees from different departments a chance to get to know each other.

Marshall told the news source that maintaining interest in corporate wellness programs is crucial in terms of sustaining high productivity levels, especially in the present economic climate.

"Employers are having to deal with a lighter work force and need employees to be healthy," she told the newspaper. "A healthier, more productive work force can lower healthcare costs."

The news source reports that Saint Francis Medical Center in nearby Cape Girardeau offers a wellness initiative that encourages employees to undertake annual lab work, blood pressure checks, flexibility tests and other health screenings. Workers can use points they accrue as a result of participating to receive vouchers that can then be applied to medical bills or health insurance premiums.

According to the latest Top Five Total Rewards Priorities Survey from Deloitte, employers' number one priority is the cost of providing healthcare benefits to active employees. As part of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce's WorkWell series, local companies of all sizes are being encouraged to adopt corporate health programs. Managers are offered instructional sessions about program implementation, potential gains and services the hospital can give the company in terms of health screenings, lab testing and similar offerings.