City steps it up

Published 10:10 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Paul Sperling doesn’t even start the car when he needs to get from his City Hall office to the Health and Human Services Building on Hall Avenue.

If he goes out to lunch, he hoofs it to Subway for a veggie-packed salad or sandwich.

“I just walk whenever I can,” said Sperling, the city’s network engineer. During the last five years, partially thanks to his employer, Sperling has dropped 60 pounds, has become a life member in Weight Watchers and organizes and participates in cycling races around the state.

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Sperling is not alone, a factor that has captured the attention of the American Diabetes Association.

The organization recently awarded the city of Suffolk its Health Champion Designation, making it one of the first 103 companies and organizations to receive the distinction. The designation recognizes companies and organizations that inspire and encourage organizational well-being and are part of the Diabetes Association’s Wellness Lives Here campaign.

To qualify for the designation, a company or organization must meet the healthy living criteria in three areas:

  • Nutrition and weight management: Five of 12 criteria, such as offering healthy food choices, promoting nutritional information and providing healthy vending options.
  • Physical activity: Four of nine criteria, such as participating in the physical activity events, facilitating walking or biking to work or encouraging workers to take the stairs.
  • Organizational well-being: Having an organizational smoke-free policy and three of nine other criteria, such as having a designated wellness program coordinator, a wellness committee or a contracted wellness company available to staff/members.

Suffolk has a number of programs designed to help keep its employees healthy, said Becky Brown, the city’s health and wellness coordinator.

Since 2011, Weight Watchers at Work has been hosting weekly meetings for employees on their lunch hours, Brown said. Participating employees typically lose about 1,800 pounds collectively, she added.

The city also developed a wellness incentive program, which gives participating employees a monthly discount off their health insurance premiums, in 2013, Brown said. The program requires an annual health screening and completion of an online well-being assessment.

Voluntary participation has grown from 540 to 625 participants during the last two years, Brown said.

City employees also participate in Anthem’s Walking Works 8-Week Challenge, an annual program that promotes voluntary walking, Brown said. Last year, participants logged more than 13,000 miles.

The city also offers a plethora of wellness classes, including healthy cooking, stress management, yoga and financial wellness.

Last year, the city spent approximately $14,000 on wellness initiatives, said city risk manager Donna Vogel. Many of the programs offered are in-kind services or are funded by the company’s health insurance company.