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Local health experts promote workplace wellness programs

Stickley, Audi and Co. could be a poster child for workplace wellness. The 900 employees at the Manlius furniture making company lost a collective 2,600 pounds during its last round of a Biggest Loser contest, inspired by the popular TV show.

The company's human resources director Rob Didio says the weekly weigh-ins and contests melted the weight away. "We had a gentleman who lost 65 pounds and then put it all back on. We ran another biggest loser contest this year, he's lost all the weight again, and he's vowed not to put it on all again to the point that he's bought a whole new wardrobe," Didio said.  

The company is located on a non-smoking campus, and has hired a full-time nurse while encouraging employees to walk through the village during lunch.  Owner Amini Audi says business thrives when workers are healthy.

"If people are not feeling well, they are absent, and absenteeism costs because there is loss of productivity.  So you want your employees to be present, and you want them to be productive when they are present," said Audi.

Upstate Medical University President Dr. David Smith says work site wellness is a trend that makes sense with more and more insurance companies offering incentives for healthy job sites, as well as changes coming from the upcoming Affordable Care Act.
"Dollars are going to be shifting to prevention and to pay for these kind of things,"  said Smith.

Smith, a co-chairman of the initiative, says it focuses on education and motivation for employers to strengthen their wellness policies. Some of this education could be as simple as advice for desk bound employees.

"Rather than just sitting slumped over a computer desk all day.  Take time to do some of those reverse actions. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, do some shoulder rolls. Moving your neck. A lot of us sit in a forward position," Smith said.

St. Joseph's Hospital physical therapist Kim Comboy says bad posture is a root cause of many problems. And other experts agree.

"Five minutes every hour get up and walk. Even if it's to the cafeteria, or to the rest room or to a fellow employee to talk with someone else. But if you can get out of that desk space it's a healthy thing," said Franklin Fry of the American Heart Assocation. He says the hope is that workplace wellness can ultimately help manage risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and arthritis.

Audi's advice to any company that wants to take the leap into workplace wellness is to make sure the message comes from the top.

Audi says, "Make a decision to be personally involved in it and set the tone, because usually the tone at the top is a very important message. It goes far beyond words. When my son and I get to be tested for cholesterol on-site, our employees see us. When we weigh in every Monday, they take note of that. So set the tone by being participants and living well."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.