17 New Start! Fit-Friendly Companies in Richmond in '09

Worksite wellness programs help lower healthcare costs, improve employees' health

The American Heart Association today recognized 17 new and renewed Richmond-area companies as Start! Fit-Friendly Companies for promoting physical activity and health in the workplace.   Nationally, the association recognized more than 1,200 companies in 2009 - an all-time high.  More than 2 million employees participated in the programs.

The association also released a policy statement in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association that shows worksite wellness programs are proven to prevent the major modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. These include smoking, overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Start! Fit-Friendly Companies reach Gold level status by implementing various activities and programs to encourage physical activity, nutrition and culture enhancements such as on-site walking routes, healthy food choices in cafeterias and vending machines, annual employee health risk assessments and online tracking tools.

Companies that achieve Platinum recognition - the highest tier - take the program a step further by measuring the outcomes of their wellness efforts.

Local companies newly designated or renewed as Start! Fit-Friendly include: ACAC Fitness and Wellness (Midlothian), the American Heart Association's Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Berkley Mid-Atlantic Group, Bon Secours Richmond Health System, Capital One Financial Corporation, Chesterfield County, Va, Dominion Digital, Gresham, Smith and Partners, Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc., Markel Corporation, Performance Food Group, SnagAJob.com, Southern States Cooperative, Inc., Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Physicians for Women.

These companies join the eight Richmond employers who were recognized in April 2009: Chemtreat, Children's Hospital, Costen Floors, DuPont, Federal Reserve Bank, all Richmond-area hospitals of HCA Virginia Health System, SuperValu, Virginia Cardiovascular Services.

"With the nation's rise in obesity and the escalating cost of health care, one of Anthem's priorities is the health and wellness of our employees," said Burke King, President of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia.  "We are honored to be recognized by the American Heart Association for our efforts to help our employees live healthier lives."

In the Circulation policy paper, the association said that companies can save up to $15 for every $1 spent on health and wellness within 12 to18 months of implementing a worksite wellness program. Each employee who works to lower their risk status saves their company an estimated $53 per year; these savings remain each year that employee maintains the low-risk level.

"This paper demonstrates that companies that promote worksite wellness are achieving higher levels of productivity, reducing turnover, and some are even reducing healthcare costs," said Woody Fowler, Chair of the Start! Richmond Heart Walk, to be held Saturday, October 24 at the Innsbrook Pavilion.

The American Heart Association also champions worksite wellness programs in its healthcare reform efforts, supporting an amendment that will be offered in a U.S. House Energy and Commerce bill to provide grants for qualified workplace wellness programs.

To view the complete list of the 2009 Start! Fit-Friendly Companies, or to apply for recognition, visit startwalkingnow.org.  Applications are available to download and should be completed before the Jan. 31, 2010 deadline.

Start! is sponsored nationally by SUBWAY® restaurants, Healthy Choice® and AstraZeneca ®, and locally by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and HCA Virginia Health System.

About the American Heart Association
Founded in 1924, we're the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke.  To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases - America's No. 1 and No. 3 killers - we fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health.  To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit americanheart.org.