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Area employers help provide motivation for weight loss

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Gina Duwe
January 6, 2013

It's that time of year when it seems everyone wants to lose weight.

But with crowded gyms and cold weather, finding motivation can be difficult.

Would an extra day of vacation help?

Or some cash?

The chance to win prizes can be the incentive some people need to participate in company-sponsored workout programs, area businesses say.

"I think they have the thought in their head anyways, and they get one little extra incentive, and they sign up. I think it's what gets them in the program," said Jen White, who organizes fitness programs at Data Dimensions in Janesville, where she is the executive assistant to the CEO.

Local corporate wellness programs range from in-house fitness centers to weight-loss challenges between companies or coworkers to cooking demonstrations.

More businesses are adding wellness offerings, and people are getting more creative, said Marcia Whelan, manager of Alliant Energy's Total Rewards employee program.

"I think wellness is a cornerstone," she said. "It's an investment by a company, and sometimes it's hard to measure, but I think it leads to higher productivity and a happier, healthier workforce, and that helps them do their jobs better."

Employees at Patch Products, a toy and game manufacturing company in the town of Beloit, has an on-site fitness center and cafeteria, where a chef provides healthy menu options daily, human resource manager Thelma Busker wrote in an email to The Gazette.

Healthy living is a year-round focus at Patch Products and includes guest speakers, lunchtime walking challenges and switching bad health habits for good ones, she said.

"We always try to offer some sort of incentive or reward—in the form of a gift card or small token to recognize their success," she said.

Alliant Energy's 4,000 employees can participate in a couple wellness programs, with an opportunity to earn up to $550 for an employee and $100 for a spouse, Whelan said. One of programs has a 60 percent participation rate.

Even though it's financially difficult to measure the impact, she said she thinks it's a good investment.

For the last four years, Beloit College's wellness committee has organized a "Biggest Winner" competition, a take-off from the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser," said committee member Cecil Youngblood, the assistant dean of students.

Employees compete on teams, and each person keeps track of his or her percentage weight loss—a more fair way for everyone to gauge weight loss, he said. The response and success has been great, he said.

Losing 5 percent of body weight is pretty good, he said, but they've had people lose 15 to 20 percent.

"Some people get really motivated by the competition, some by having a reason to do this," he said.

The college also offers advice on how to use the weight room how to eat healthy. On salad days, people are shown what a serving size is.

"That's a bad day for me," Youngblood joked.

On smoothie days, people make their own smoothies.

Data Dimensions, which has 450 employees in Janesville, has a 12-week Survivor Challenge program coming up. Participants will drink spinach shakes and take push-up challenges, White said. A group that participated in a past challenge collectively lost 400 pounds, she said.

White organized a similar challenge between several Janesville companies a couple years ago.

For now, most companies are wrapping up programs that encouraged employees to maintain—not gain—weight through the holiday season. Those who achieved the goal were entered into prize drawings.

At Patch Products, 44 employees contributed $5 to an office pool for their "Holiday Hold" program.

"The competitive nature of the weight-hold challenge combined with the friendly spirit of it—employees good-naturedly help keep one another accountable—makes it a success," Busker said.



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