Maryland kicks off wellness initiative for employees -- Gazette.Net


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Maryland is rolling out a new program to keep state employees in good health, and study the most effective fitness strategies employed by state agencies.

The State of Maryland Employee Wellness Initiative, led by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will develop best practices for state agencies to promote healthy lifestyles among their employees, said Fran Philips, the department’s deputy secretary for public health.

The initiative eventually will use Maryland’s StateStat data-collection system to track the health of state employees and promote sound eating, exercise and avoiding tobacco. Research shows that living by those three principles can prevent 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and 40 percent of some cancers, according to DHMH.

“It is our responsibility as employers to provide our employees opportunities to improve their health while at the same time improving the bottom line for our businesses, our government and our communities,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in a statement.

The program was announced Friday at a workplace health and wellness symposium in Linthicum, and the first phase will include a series of state-sponsored activities in the coming months, including promotion of healthy recipes, physical activity in the workplace and Maryland Quitline, a free hot line and website for people who want to quit smoking.

Because there can be a difference in the levels of physical activity between jobs — employees at the Department of Corrections, for example, face different physical challenges than park rangers — agencies will be given the freedom to adopt the policies that best suit their needs, Philips said.

Next year, the state will begin examining data, such as which policies have been adopted and how many employees have gotten flu shots, to measure what’s been most effective, Philips said.

Increasing basic exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes per day, is particularly important for those whose daily life isn’t active, said Dr. Brit Saksvig, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“Reducing that sedentary time can have great benefit,” she said.

Good dietary choices, particularly avoiding sugary drinks such as sodas, also are crucial, Saksvig said.

“A lot of people don’t think of drinks as [highly] caloric,” she said. “If you’re not exercising regularly, the calories build up.”

This past week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed banning sugary drinks from being served in quantities greater than 16 ounces at restaurants and food carts. Diet sodas, unsweetened coffee and tea and drinks with fewer than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces would be exempt from New York’s ban.

Most single-serving bottles of soda are 20 ounces; most cans are 12 ounces.

dleaderman@gazette.net