Wellness program offer fun, fitness to county employees.

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Bob Shiles
Staff writer
LUMBERTON — Robeson County employees are discovering that living a healthy lifestyle not only enhances the quality of life, it can be lots of fun, too.
“I just wish that everyone would realize that the body they have is the only one they will get,” said Angela Locklear, the county’s wellness director. “Everyone needs to treat their body right. They need to eat healthy and exercise.”
In order to promote a healthy lifestyle among employees, the county is sponsoring a Biggest Loser contest. The contest is modeled after the television reality series in which individuals try to lose weight by exercising and eating properly.
Locklear, who offers employees aerobic and weight training classes as well as providing nutrition and other health-related information, says the contest is a great way to motivate employees to exercise.
“The obesity rate in Robeson County is astronomical,” Locklear said. “With obesity comes a high rate of heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.”
As of Thursday, there were 68 three-member teams taking part in the contest, which runs through April 30. Each employee pays $5 to participate. The county has contributed $200. The winning team will get 75 percent of the pot, with the remaining 25 percent going to the second-place team.
“This is a great incentive for us,” said Jackie Southern, a county zoning technician who attends exercise classes led by Locklear each Tuesday and Thursday. “There is more enthusiasm and support when exercising in a group.”
Penny McCartney, a secretary with the Cooperative Extension Service, agrees.
“This is a good program,” she said. “I was sore the first couple of days (after exercising), but I now feel that I have more energy.”
Participants say that friendly competition among teams is becoming intense.
“My boss, who is on another team, is even enticing me to eat biscuits and other wrong foods,” said Barbara Mullis, who works at the county jail. “He really wants to win.”
County Manager Ken Windley has formed a team with the county’s two assistant managers.
“Between the three of us we could stand to lose at least 70 pounds,” Windley said.
The Biggest Loser contest is just one part of the county’s overall Wellness program that was initiated last June. By making an investment in the health of its employees, Windley said, the county hopes to save on health-care costs.
Windley said the county is currently spending about $8 million a year for health-care expenses. How much of a savings the Wellness program yields may not be evident for a couple of years, he said.
Participation in the program is voluntary, said Locklear, the program’s director since August. Currently, 954 of 1,059 county employees — more than 90 percent — have opted to take part.
Employees who participate in the program receive a medical evaluation and a report card on the state of their health. They also have access to free services from a nurse practitioner who was hired in January.
Locklear said that in addition to exercise classes and instruction, employees are offered information on nutrition and other health-related issues. Taking part in different activities can even earn them points toward prizes, she said.
“The county wants to educate employees on how to live a healthy lifestyle,” Locklear said. “Everyone wants to be healthy. I’m just trying to show them how.”