Work site fitness model targets health departments

A dozen have already signed on

Bruce Leonard, MPH, CHES, a Lawrenceville, GA-based physical activity interventionalist, has employed a unique strategy to help build support for an ambitious program aimed at creating a nationwide model for work site physical fitness.

Leonard’s organization, AIM 2010, has enlisted the aid of 12 state health departments.

"I chose them because I knew they would spread the program beyond their own employees," notes Leonard, whose ultimate goal is to get employees at thousands of companies across the country to participate in his incentive-based work site fitness program (see the cover story in the August 1999 issue of Employee Health & Fitness).

New York leads the way

The state of New York, one of the earliest of those organizations to sign on, obtained a grant to promote employee cardiac health and make the program available statewide. The state of Maine now has over 50 sites involved in the program.

In addition, the states of Maryland, Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, and Texas are participating, "both internally and externally," Leonard notes.

Closer to home in the Atlanta area, Leonard has involved the state government of Georgia and Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties. "All of the county governments have provided the program for their employees, and will now make it available to other work sites," says Leonard.

But he’s perhaps most excited about the involvement of the governor’s office; in fact, the program in Georgia has been named "The Governor’s TakeCharge Challenge." "Because the governor’s office is involved, other doors will open wide," Leonard predicts.

No standard model

Leonard’s campaign grew out of his concern that "no standard model exists for how a work site physical fitness program should look," he explains. "In order to determine best practices’ in health promotion, you need to have such a standard and you need to be able to assess behaviors. And physical activity is the gateway to any wellness program."

Leonard’s 10-week program is amazingly simple — which makes it easy to replicate. It involves the creation of employee teams; the setting of a 10-week physical activity point goal, with one point representing 10 minutes of physical activity; and incentives for participants and team leaders.

At the onset of the program, the baseline level of activity is assessed, as well as where each participant falls within the Stages of Change model. "The results must be measurable, in order to see which rewards work," Leonard explains.

Those rewards are determined by management, which basically says, "I give you [the employee] permission to set physical activity goals, and to receive a reward."

"All it takes is for management to say, We care for you,’" says Leonard.

The team structure is intended to boost participation, while the incentive for team captains is aimed at helping employees achieve their goals.

Tracking the results

At the end of the 10-week period, both physical activity and Stages of Change are reassessed. The goal is to track results for a period of five to 10 years. "You take the baseline data, track it over time, and then compare work site to work site," says Leonard. "This way you can demonstrate cost benefit."

Over time, he adds, more behaviors can be added to the program.

"But each new behavior must involve a Stages of Change measure, goals that have been individually set by participants, and a reward system," he asserts.

When you reach a "critical mass" of participants and see the kinds of changes that are sustainable, "You know that you are committed to being a healthy company," he concludes.

Bruce Leonard, MPH, CHES, AIM 2010, 809 Mill Bend Drive, Lawrenceville, GA 30044. Telephone: (770) 978-2289. Fax: (770) 978-3821. E-mail: bel0@gateway.net.