‘Culture of wellness’: new lifestyles, new attitudes

02/24/2012 9:53 AM

02/24/2012 9:53 AM

Americans are starting to take the old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” seriously. Some businesses and organizations are calling this model the “culture of wellness.”

Wellness is not just working out and occasionally picking one food over another; it’s creating a lifestyle of health.

Several county organizations and local businesses are not only redesigning what they put in their vending machines; they are also redesigning their attitude.

“I think people are hungry to learn how to live a healthier life,” said Claudia Blackburn, health director of the Sedgwick County Health Department. “It takes a lot of reprogramming.”

Statistics gathered by the Sedgwick County Health Department show that excess weight, lack of physical activity and unhealthy diets have contributed to an increased likelihood of diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. The department’s statistics show that 28 percent of the county’s adults are obese. That’s a rate more than 10 percent higher than Denver’s, but the same as Oklahoma City’s. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control measures the adult obesity rate at 33 percent and 17 percent for those under 18.

Many in the community are on board to create wellness options and combat unhealthy habits.

Paths are being forged in Blackburn’s office. The health department’s dental clinic is teaching about nutrition, the Women, Infants and Children food program is encouraging breastfeeding and nutrition, and employees are being encouraged to use the stairs.

“Walking is one of the best forms of exercise,” Blackburn said. “Getting outside is also important for mental health.”

The city of Wichita and Sedgwick County have responded to this need by building bike and walking paths.

Mim McKenzie, chair of the Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita, said local businesses have increased their use of wellness programs.

“Many local businesses have put their money and their time and their energy into creating a healthy environment for their employees,” McKenzie said.

Each year the coalition hands out awards to organizations that excel at worksite wellness. The 2011 Wellness Award Winner for large companies was Cessna Aircraft Co.

“The whole focus of our program was to help people make healthy choices,” said Kiersten Camp, an advanced practice registered nurse and Cessna employee. “We wanted to make sure that we were giving our employees the tools to keep them healthy.”

For more than a decade Cessna employees have had access to a fitness center and a pool. Another pool was recently added to the western campus. The company also has walking paths and a full-time ergonomist, a professional who makes sure that tools, chairs and other equipment are designed with employees’ needs in mind.

Starting in 2007, Camp said, Cessna instituted a health risk assessment, as well as healthy living programs for its 4,800 Wichita employees. This program is free to employees and is designed to help with social, financial and emotional health. Every two months, the company offers a new Internet-based program. These programs encourage peer relationships and have a 60 percent participation rate.

The Greteman Group won the Wellness Award from the Coalition for innovation a few years ago.

This company brings in fitness trainers from the YMCA to lead muscle pump classes. They also offer yoga classes and have events such as hula-hoop contests and 10,000-step challenges. There’s always an elliptical ball, weights and other fun equipment available.

Since the Greteman Group started measuring health risk, Carol Farrow, the company’s office manager, said they have seen a decrease in both blood pressure and cholesterol in their employees.

Healthy habits also are important for children. That’s why the Downtown Day Care Center adopted the “Color Me Healthy” program. This curriculum, which started this winter, is designed to teach preschoolers about healthy food choices.

January was designated white food month. The classrooms were loaded with white balloons. Cottage cheese, yogurt and cauliflower were some of the foods the youngsters were able to try.

“I learned that you are the hero when you walk into a classroom of children with balloons,” said Geraldine Winters, who serves on the board of this nonprofit agency that offers sliding-scale payment for its services. A grant from the Junior League, along with Junior League volunteers, made the program possible. The Junior League also has helped with the physical needs of the children by donating playground equipment.

Cooking classes and healthy tip sheets, featuring the colors of the month, are given to the parents of the preschoolers as well.

Winters loved the red beets in February and looks forward, as do the children, to seeing what fruits and vegetables will show up in March.

“It’s just so much fun,” Winters said.

Blackburn always encourages healthy choices, whether it’s parking farther away and walking or making sure that water is always provided at company meetings.

“When people gather and talk about being healthy, that’s what we want,” Blackburn said, “When more people are eating a healthy diet and moving more, that’s when we know people are living a culture of wellness.”

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