Governor Warner launches healthy Virginians initiative

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Staff Report

In an effort to counter rising health care costs linked to obesity and hypertension, Gov. Mark Warner on Tuesday launched the &uot;Healthy Virginians&uot; initiative.

Warner believes the move will combat obesity, hypertension, and other preventable diseases among state employees, public school students, Medicaid recipients, and the public. The Governor announced the program at the State Capitol in Richmond, and then led a one-mile lunchtime walk for state employees to a health fair at the Farmers’ Market in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Bottom.

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Governor Warner cited studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Family Foundation that indicate as many as 35 percent of all Virginians are overweight and another 23.7 percent are obese, 23 percent do not exercise on a regular basis, and an estimated 25 percent of Virginians smoke or use other tobacco products.

&uot;Every day in Virginia, lives can be extended and their quality improved by following a few simple rules for a healthier lifestyle,&uot; Warner said.

&uot;These include maintaining a proper diet, not smoking, getting regular medical check-ups, and exercising regularly,&uot; he added &uot;Our Healthy Virginians initiative is intended to promote these values in school, on the job, and among families who receive care through Medicaid.&uot;

The state employee component of the Healthy Virginians program, detailed on Tuesday includes the following elements:

?All state employees will be encouraged to undergo a confidential, on-line health assessment at

The Web site provides a wealth of useful health information, and allows users to document improvements to their health habits and overall wellness over time.

The individual assessments are available only through Healthy Virginians to state employees.

?State employees will be asked to participate in the Virginia on the Move(tm) walking program, coordinated by the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Tech, as the state affiliate of the national, non-profit America on the Move(tm) program. Participating employees can record daily walk and exercise routines at

?State employees will be encouraged to use a daily 15-minute break for walking or other exercise.

Participants in upcoming health screenings will receive free pedometers to better monitor their daily walking.

?State employees will be made aware of education programs, special contests and challenges, and other health-related initiatives.

In addition, the state will coordinate distribution of Healthy Virginians Tool Kits that include &uot;best practices&uot; information on how to integrate health and physical activity into the work culture.

These tool kits can be used as a model for private sector employers as well.

&uot;This initiative does not require expensive exercise equipment or extreme dieting,&uot; the Warner said. &uot;By walking an additional 2,000 steps each day – the equivalent of a 15-minute walk, or about one mile — and consuming 100 fewer calories every day – which is equal to about one can of soda — Virginians can lower their blood pressure, lose weight, and feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.&uot;

Representatives of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and Virginia Action for Healthy Kids attended Tuesday’s launch of Healthy Virginians.

&uot;The American Heart Association is thrilled that Governor Warner is championing this initiative,&uot; said Cathleen Smith Grzesiek, director of public advocacy for the Virginia Council of the American Heart Association.

&uot;The Healthy Virginians campaign can help state employees and their families take charge of their health and ultimately lower their risk for the number one killer of Virginians – cardiovascular disease.

It’s a wonderful first step toward encouraging all Virginians to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.&uot;

This initiative also has strong support from the private sector, and Tuesday’s Richmond health fair included about 30 healthcare providers and other local and national vendors involved in exercise, nutrition, and health activities.

This initiative for state employees builds on the highly successful CommonHealth program, which was launched 17 years ago and is considered a model program for employee wellness.

In the past year, approximately 6,000 participating employees have lost a combined 16,000 pounds through weight reduction programs, and more than 350 state workers stopped using tobacco products.

&uot;While the CommonHealth program has been a useful tool, we know that lifestyle-related conditions account for $52 million in health care costs for state employees each year.

If you add in the state share of Medicaid costs for conditions related to an unhealthy lifestyle,&uot; said Gov. Warner, &uot;the cost to Virginia taxpayers approaches $200 million a year because we simply aren’t getting enough exercise and paying close enough attention to what we eat. It is clear that we must do better, and these new tools are intended to do just that.&uot;

From private health insurers to Medicaid and Medicare, approximately $1.6 billion a year is spent in Virginia on lifestyle related conditions like cerebral vascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Governor Warner cited the example of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose Healthy Arkansas program inspired the effort in Virginia.

Governor Huckabee has made health and wellness a top priority after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and losing almost 100 pounds in the past two years through improved diet and exercise.

In coming weeks, Governor Warner will unveil specific proposals to encourage Virginia’s more than 1,800 public schools to promote greater physical activity and health education among children.

The Governor also will propose changes to the Medicaid program designed to provide greater incentives for disease management and health prevention for the system’s more than 600,000 participants.

The Governor also announced that the Web site will serve as a single Internet portal for accessing information as various components of the Healthy Virginians program are announced.