One Step at a Time
After comparing annual medical claims and conducting health screenings for its 4,500 employees a few years ago, Bexar County, Texas, discovered an unusually high prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases across all departments, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes. For most employees, those diseases could be addressed with behavioral modifications, such as increased physical activity.
In November 2007, the county contracted with Framingham, Mass.-based Virgin HealthMiles to help motivate people to get active by paying them to take preventive health measures. Coordinating with the county’s healthcare provider, Louisville, Ky.-based Humana, and a local health club, Spectrum Athletic Clubs, Virgin HealthMiles began tracking employees’ exercise and rewarding physically active participants up to $500 annually.
Employees use pedometers to track their activity and upload the data to a personal online tracking center. They also measure and track key health measures regularly.
In the last year, 20 percent of program participants who were either previously inactive or had low levels of activity have become active. And, now 34 percent of all county employees participate in the program. “We frequently form walking groups near our office and to a nearby university. It’s a good 20-minute walk at a fast pace. This used to seem so far, but now after walking so much with [the program,] it is so close,” says Daisy Garza, an administrative assistant. “I can now do things I never thought I could do. My energy level is up. I feel good about myself, and I want to keep going. I’m most pleased with my BMI level — it’s down two points, my blood pressure is now more stable, and it’s great stress relief.”
Bexar County’s longer-term plan involves tying employee results into medical plans. The county will start hosting health screenings over the next year to track blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol readings, and determine if they have dropped because of program participation. “As a county office, we believe we serve as role models to our community, to keep active and take care of our health,” Stewart says. “We are thrilled that we’ve already seen the positive change it has made on our employees’ lifestyles and their families, and are excited about getting more participants on board.”