Thursday, August 26, 2010

Calling all HEROES: New grants available for youth ready to fight obesity

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children is obese or overweight, putting them on the road to lifelong chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. If left unchecked or untreated, UnitedHealthcare’s 2009 America’s Health Rankings™ study projects obesity will affect 43 percent of adults by 2018 and will add nearly $344 billion in that year alone to the nation’s annual direct health care costs – more than 21 percent of total health care spending!

That’s why it’s so important for young people to understand the risks of obesity and learn about good health early in life, and it’s why we launched the HEROES program two years ago.

Our UnitedHealth HEROES program awards micro grants to schools and youth organizations that come up with creative plans for how to educate their communities about the importance of healthy lifestyles. We gave out 265 grants across the country this year, including 24 in Pennsylvania, and we’re now accepting applications for 2011 grants.

We’re calling on even more youth in Pennsylvania to join the fight against childhood obesity and become health HEROES! Teachers and community leaders can submit 2011 grant applications online at until midnight on October 22, 2010.

In 2010, we gave grants to organizations all across Pennsylvania, including one to high school students from the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative Youthworks Program in Philadelphia who transformed an abandoned plot of land into a community orchard and amphitheater; to students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Levittown, who photographed “unhealthy signals” in their community such as the placement of junk food in grocery store aisles for a presentation to parents, school boards and legislators; and to students at Claysville Elementary School, who created a “Healthy Living” informational DVD and distributed it to classmates, community members and local media outlets.

I can’t wait to see what creative projects our health HEROES come up with to encourage their friends, families and community members to live healthier lives!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Companies can and do make wellness work on the job

It’s difficult to find a work/life balance today, when work consumes so much of our lives. If we don’t have the time or the resources, it’s a struggle to stick to a healthy lifestyle. But as I’ve learned working for UnitedHealthcare, success on the job doesn’t have to come at the expense of personal health.

That’s because more and more employers are providing the tools employees need to make smarter, healthier decisions, and the tools really help. According to a recent MetLife study of employee benefits, 85% of employees who participate in wellness programs successfully lose weight, while 84% improve their diet and exercise, 81% better manage health problems like high blood pressure, cholesterol and stress and 63% are able to stop smoking.

Why, then, are there still many workers out there not taking advantage of wellness programs? The same MetLife study found that even though more employers are including wellness initiatives in health benefits, just 57% of employees are participating.

Those statistics got me thinking about what different companies can do to get their employees to take a more active role in improving their health. To start, they should take a look at the many employer-sponsored wellness programs in the area that are already taking off.

Companies throughout the Philadelphia region, of all sizes and from many different industries, have found creative ways to engage their employees in wellness initiatives. Some of them are doing such a great job, UnitedHealthcare, in partnership with the Philadelphia Business Journal, decided to give them an award.

At American Heritage Federal Credit Union, for example, employees compete against each other in the “Maintain Don’t Gain” holiday weight-watching challenge. At Compas, Inc., staff members get to spend their lunch hour with a personal trainer. And teachers in the Downingtown area school district can actually win prizes for improving their health. That’s why they’re all winners of the 2010 UnitedHealthcare Healthy Workplace Award.

Here is a complete list of Healthy Workplace Award winners.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Healthier food products mean healthier choices, and that means healthier Americans.

An event I recently attended got me thinking about the fight against obesity. We work hard at UnitedHealthcare to educate adults and children on the importance of healthy lifestyle choices and develop new programs and initiatives to help make those choices easier. But it’s a nationwide epidemic, which means it will take a nationwide effort from all kinds of companies to really put an end to obesity.

At this event, I had the opportunity to talk with Doug Conant, chief executive officer of Campbell’s Soup and Denise Morrison, the president of Campbell’s North America, who I’ve come to know.

Doug and Denise are really focused on engaging the employees at Campbell’s in a team effort to create good tasting, more nutritious products. They know foods have to be delicious or consumers won’t buy them, but they also know the importance of giving consumers the option to make healthier choices. That’s why everyone at Campbell’s is working together to find ways to maintain the quality of they’re products while improving nutritional value, especially by reducing sodium levels.

And Campbell’s isn’t the only company making the shift to healthier goods. Especially now that First Lady Michelle Obama has launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to battle childhood obesity, more and more major players in the food industry are pledging to do their part and improve the nutritional value of their products.

Take Pepsi for example, which recently pledged to reduce sugar by 25 per cent, salt by 25 per cent and saturated fat by 15 per cent in its soda drinks and other products by 2015. The company also announced that it plans to remove all its sugary drinks from schools worldwide by 2010 and add new healthier products to its roster of Pepsi, Tropicana, Gatorade, Frito Lay and Quaker goods that include more whole grains, fiber, fruit, vegetables, key vitamins and minerals.

Kraft Foods made a similar announcement. The company, which is the largest food maker in North America, said it plans to cut sodium levels in its North American products, including Oreo, Jell-O, Chips Ahoy!, Oscar Meyer, Ritz and Velveeta brands, by about 10 percent over the next two years -- eliminating more than 10 million pounds, or 750 million teaspoons of salt!

If more food and beverage makers, restaurants and other companies throughout the U.S. step up to the plate, I know we can put a stop to these deadly rates of obesity. As long as we keep working to develop new products, encourage healthy choices and educate consumers on the importance of nutrition and exercise, we can have a healthier America.