VALDOSTA -- Lowndes County and the City of Valdosta employees are getting healthy.

Both city and county employees are participating in the Lowndes County Partnership for Health Well Workplace program. The program, modeled after the Well Workplace program by the Wellness Councils of America, helps local businesses and churches develop work site wellness programs. There are seven basic steps, called the Seven C's, that drive the implementation of the Well Workplace. They are:

Capturing senior level support.

Creating a cohesive wellness team.

Collecting data to drive programming efforts.

Crafting an operating plan.

Choosing appropriate interventions .

Creating a supportive environment.

Consistently evaluating outcomes.

John Sparks, executive director of the Partnership, said the city and the county have been following these steps. After creating a wellness team, data about health from employees was collected. The data on specific employees was is confidential, but percentages were calculated for the wellness team on what the employees' main health concerns were, from stress to weight concerns. A wellness score was also conducted per employee, and individual, and confidential, scores were sent out.

The wellness teams then set goals and started activities and programs. One such program was the "10K a Day." Employees were given a pedometer and asked to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.

"Research shows this program is a real health benefit," Sparks said. "Often, it also becomes a lifestyle change. It's not easy to get those 10,000 steps. A sedentary person who walks from their parking space to the office and doesn't do much after that, probably walks only about 3,000 steps a day. So park in the back of the parking lot, or get up more and walk around -- it all makes a difference."

The city and the county each took different approaches to the program.

The city made the 10K a contest. The department heads competed, then departments. The top three employees in the departments were given a luncheon, and then competed against each other to see who was the "best of the best," Sparks said.

The county formed a walking club for the 10K. The wellness team at the county set up guidelines and as employees met certain goals, they were inducted into the walking club. Sparks said over 150 employees joined the walking club.

The different strategies are the brainchild of the wellness teams, which Sparks said makes the program work so well.

"That is the beauty of the wellness team -- it is a cross-section of employees that know what health issues others need and want addressed," Sparks said.

The county is also going to hold a cookoff at the end of September. County employees are encouraged to bring a dish or dessert, with the recipe, to be judged. The dish must be a healthy meal or dessert. Sparks hopes the turnout will be so great, a cookbook will be formed.

Sparks said the city, county and other businesses all benefit by trying to have healthier workplaces.

"Healthy employees are happier, they work harder and feel good about themselves and their jobs," he said. "It also cuts down on health costs. Because the city and county employees' health insurance is paid for by taxpayers, it saves taxpayers money."

Businesses are also getting heavily involved with Well Workplace. Sparks said he has seen a tremendous response from local businesses. Among those who participate are: Ambling Companies, ASA Engineering, Doctor's Lab, ERCO Worldwide Inc., Griffin LLC, Hood Packaging, Langdale Forest Products, Nashville Mills, Regal Marine, SAFT America, Shaw Industries, Smith Northview Hospital, South Georgia Medical Center, Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, Valdosta State University and Valdosta Technical College.

Sparks said SGMC also has its own ongoing wellness initiative. He also said part of the Partnership's goals in the Well Workplace is to get businesses nationally certified. If a business is certified, it has completed all Seven C's. Langdale Forest Products and Shaw Industries are already certified.

Sparks said companies interested in the program should call him at 245-0020.

"The benefits are endless for the company and the employees," he said.

To contact reporter Michelle Taylor, please call 229-244-3400, ext. 245.

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