The costs of obesity
• New cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times between 2010 and 2020 if obesity rates maintain trajectories
• Medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year in the U.S. by 2030
• If states could reduce the average body-mass index by 5 percent by 2030, nearly every state could save between 6.5 percent and 7.9 percent in health-care costs
Local eateries may notice that diners are swapping burgers for salads, and drivers may have already observed the group that walks along Memorial Drive three afternoons a week.
That’s because employees from Liberty County, the city of Hinesville and the school system are taking part in an eight-week Get Healthy challenge.
The initiative, which began Feb. 4, is coordinated by Lewis Frasier Middle School nurse Peggy Rayman, county human resources specialist Laura Troutman, Hinesville human resources specialist Holly Stevens and spokeswoman Krystal Hart.
“I guess you can blame my principal,” Rayman said about how the collaboration came together.
Lewis Frasier Middle School last year was recognized for its health efforts with a visit from U.S. Congressman Rep. Jack Kingston and a TV crew from Washington, D.C.
“He started getting, ‘Wow, this is really serious,’ and so he said, ‘Have you thought about involving all the schools?’” Rayman said about Principal Jermaine Williams. “Really a lot of it was his idea … and then I said, what about involving the city and the county, and he said, ‘Go for it.’”
The initiative is a new spin on an old idea for Liberty County, which has its own LIVE Well program each year. But for Hinesville, the focus on fitness is new.
“We would annually have a health fair where we would have people come in and do health screenings, but we weren’t doing a program,” Stevens said.
Impetus for the challenge comes from desires to prepare for the future and to help save money.
For Rayman, the issue is about children’s livelihood — but it involves adults changing their behaviors.
“Many different health officials are saying that this is probably the first generation of kids that will not live longer than their parents …,” she said. “Everything in our culture leans toward a sedentary lifestyle and eating more than we need, but I didn’t think that we needed to just work with them, because of course they’re looking at the teachers as role models.”
Because the focus of the challenge is to encourage good habits and help participants identify and break the bad ones, there are several dimensions to participation.
Participants weighed in on Feb. 4 and will step on the scale March 1. Their final weigh-in will be March 29.
Each week, participants earn points by completing certain activities, such as exercising, avoiding sugary foods, not eating after 9 p.m., eating two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables.
Challenge-takers also are encouraged to keep a food journal in the format of their choice — which can include paper-based options or use of apps that make calorie recommendations.
There are three levels of competition, and each entity has different incentives for its employees. Participants are up against their own colleagues, other departments within their government, and then there is a challenge between the city, county and school system.
The challenge is aimed at helping participants identify and correct poor choices — a task that can be hard when working with people who are set in their ways.
“For me, the resistance came from those who feel like they’re already fit — underweight or at an ideal weight for themselves — but there’s also individuals who may feel they look good, but when they went to the health screening and saw their BMI or their cholesterol, they realize ‘OK, I may look good, but I’m not healthy,’” Hart said.
The city offers several walking and cardio-based opportunities for employees and has partnered with Hinesville Day Spa to make discounted services available.
Though only three weeks in, the challenge already has boosted morale and encouraged people from different departments to interact, Hart said, offering anecdotes about an officer inquiring about her drink choices or other employees reminding her to use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Rayman said some insurance providers through the school system offer incentives for maintaining fitness, but the city does not yet have such perks available.
But Stevens added that if they can establish a history of reduced claims, the city could save down the road.
And Rayman added that there has been talk within the health sector of moving toward a penalty for obesity that is similar to the premium penalty that smokers incur.
Still, there are more direct benefits.
“Any time you can have your employees working toward healthy behaviors, you know that’s going to encourage them to stay fit and to stay well, and in return, that’s going to reduce the costs of your health care because you’re less likely to have individuals that may be obese and have problems that are associated with being overweight,” Stevens said.
Hart added that being active also helps people perform better in other areas.
“On the mental health side, if you feel better, you look better, you’re practicing healthier lifestyles, I think that results in higher productivity and employees who can last longer, stay longer,” Hart said. “For me, during my lunch hour I work out on two days of the week, and it totally changes my energy level and my outlook on that second half of the day.”
Rayman added that documentation indicates there is a definitive link between students’ health and test scores.
The women say they hope the lifestyle changes will synergize the private sector and the community as a whole to become more active and more aware of what they are consuming.
“We just want it to be part of the culture here when we come to Liberty County,” Hart said.