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Legislature honors county, T.O. for wellness programs

By Alicia Doyle
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recognizing the value of a healthy workplace, the county of Ventura and city of Thousand Oaks received top honors for establishing wellness programs that benefit their company in many ways, including reduced insurance rates, increased productivity and lower long-term healthcare costs.

"They are recognized by the Legislature as being a business that takes employee health serious, is willing to financially support programs for employee health, and they have an opportunity each year to grow their programs and increase their honoree status," said Leah Cox, executive director of the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, which honored 78 California employers with 2008 Fit Business Awards in partnership with the Health Trust and Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

The county of Ventura received a Gold Award, and the city of Thousand Oaks was presented with a Silver Award of recognition by state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, during a ceremony earlier this month at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara.

The county of Ventura, which has 7,600 employees, has won numerous honors — including the C. Everett Koop National Health Award — for its wellness program established 20 years ago, said Susan Heller, wellness program manager for the county.

"The county has received recognition alongside employers with far greater financial resources ... such as Johnson & Johnson, Coors Brewing Co. and Dole Foods," Heller said.

Wellness program participants consistently report significant lifestyle changes, she said. For instance, approximately a year after entering the program, 90 percent reported a reduced intake of fat; 93 percent increased their intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables; and 87 percent showed increased physical activity. Sixty-five percent lowered their blood pressure to normal levels, and 46 percent of those with elevated glucose levels lowered their glucose below the prediabetic level.

The wellness program for the city of Thousand Oaks, which has 660 employees, includes an on-site fitness room, noontime informational meetings on health and nutrition, weight management programs, flu shots, evening fitness classes, and an internal Web page providing information on health and fitness issues, said Cheryl Johnson of the city of Thousand Oaks.

"Since the program's inception, the city has sent a message to employees that their health and well-being are important to the organization," Johnson said. "City employees have lost over 1,200 excess pounds through participation in an on-site weight management program. Many have seen improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, and attendance at on-site fitness and health-related classes continues to rise."

These awards are a way to recognize business owners who promote healthy choices, not because of legislative mandate, but because it's the right thing to do, Cox said.

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