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Health of countys workers a concern
Deal for discounted gym passes approved
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Forsyth County News

About four out of five Forsyth County employees are overweight, according to the first round of wellness screenings conducted under a new health insurance plan.

The data also show about 78 percent of employees screened have blood pressure above normal (greater than 120/80), 65 percent are considered obese and 43 percent have at-risk cholesterol levels.

Obesity was determined by having a body mass index, or BMI, of 27.5 or higher, while overweight people had a BMI of at least 25.

The report, presented Tuesday during a county commission work session, included data from screenings of 1,048 employees, or about 94 percent.

Workers enrolled in the new wellness program participated in the screenings in the first quarter of this year.

The aggregate data provides a baseline for employee health at the program’s start, said Pat Carson, the county’s director of personnel services.

“If we can work toward getting some of these really critical areas down, not only will the employees be healthier, but also the [health care] costs, we should start seeing them going down,” Carson said.

Commissioners adopted changes to the county health insurance plan in September 2012 to reel in rising costs of the program.

The employee contribution rose, but those who entered the voluntary wellness program received a substantial discount.

Aside from promoting healthier employees, the screenings may also reduce high-cost medical claims on the county’s insurance by detecting risk factors before serious issues arise.

Carson noted the first screening detected undiagnosed high blood pressure in 21 percent of employees.

“Those really are the ones that are very, very helped with these kinds of screenings,” she said.

The results also supported an earlier recommendation of the parks board to offer employees half-off fitness passes at county recreation centers.

A questionnaire during the assessments determined 70 percent of employees do not get the recommended amount of physical activity, which is at least 30 continuous minutes four days per week.

Carson said the high overall BMI of employees seems to be reflective of not enough physical activity.

Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that for each unit BMI increases, health care costs go up 1.9 percent, she said.

After reviewing the report, commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to offer fitness class and gym passes to employees with a 50 percent discount.

Commissioner Todd Levent wanted to also extend the offer to spouses of employees, who can also add to high-dollar claims on the county insurance plan.

The discount could also encourage couples to work out together, Levent said.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills expressed concern that the gyms could become too full if the passes were free or if spouses also received the discount too.

“You don’t want to overcrowd the facility where taxpayers that are paying full price can’t use the equipment because we’ve turned it into being a county employee gym,” Mills said.

Just 33 county employees currently have membership to the county gym or fitness classes.

The commission decided to first see what sort of impact the discounted employee passes had on the health plan and the gyms.

Carson said the county will continue to gather the employee health data annually to review trends and determine any action that could help reverse areas of concern.