Junkfood Science: Mass in Motion

January 08, 2009

Mass in Motion

Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick’s Administration announced the launch of its far-reaching statewide obesity campaign today. Called Mass in Motion, it includes every conceivable popularized initiative to reduce calories and increase exercise among residents - in schools, workplaces and communities.

Mass in Motion includes $750,000 in state grants for communities to establish wellness programs, from school food programs to walking paths; mandatory calorie counts posted for all foods offered in chain restaurants; BMI measurements of public school children and the findings to be sent home with students, along with detailed advice on eating better and exercising; an executive order for all state agencies to comply with its "healthy" food guidelines in their food services; expanded state-sponsored workplace wellness programs; and a state website to promote "healthy" eating and physical activity.

According to the Boston Globe, the measures would go into effect next fall if approved by the Public Health Council, which generally follows the administration’s recommendations:

Last night, one council member, Dr. Alan Woodward, said he expected broad support on the panel. Woodward, a former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said, "The "obesity epidemic is one of the primary public health threats we face now."

The Public Health Council is under the state Department of Public Health. The PHC meeting is next Wednesday, January 14th at 9am and, according to the meeting agenda, Mass in Motion will be an information presentation only and not a vote item.

None of these proposals need a rehashing of the science, or the lack thereof, nor of the financial and political incentives behind them. [New readers can Google topics using the search tool on the right hand sidebar.]

You might find the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s 188-page employer Toolkit for employer wellness programs of interest — available here. It’s a step-by-step guide for businesses that begins with instructions for obtaining a clear mandate for a workplace wellness program from senior management and even offers meeting agendas. It includes an in-depth 21-page survey for employers about their business practices, employees and the company’s worksite health promotion policies.

It suggests goals and objectives for companies, such as:

● reducing sick days by 10%,

● a wellness program that includes “disease management,”

● identify diabetics and smokers among employees; enroll 75% of all diabetics into disease and lifestyle management program; offer smoking cessation programs and aids, such as patches and medications to smokers;

● implement an annual Health Risk Assessment that is tied to an incentive with the goal of achieving a minimum of a 75% participation, and integrate it into new hire process and make it a pre-requisite to open enrollment registration for employee benefits;

● issue pedometers to all participants and organize lunch walking clubs; procure bike rack and bike parking;

● secure an instructor, time and room to offer Weight Watchers with all programs on site for 12 weeks; offer continuous on site and online 12 week weight management programs to all employees who have BMIs of 25 or greater;

● establish food policies for healthy choices in all food services — such as substitute turkey or vegetarian versions of bacon and sausage, substitute fruit puree for maple syrup, use egg substitute rather than real eggs, and use nonfat or low-fat condiments;

● offer healthy eating lunch and learns each quarter;

● change vending machine offerings to follow the Traffic Light system;

● offer healthy lifestyle counseling and coaching services;

● biometric screening of employees;

● on site healthy nutrition programs; handouts that offer smiley faces or frowns for food and beverage choices, based on their calories, sugar, fat or salt content; the sample “Beverage Facts” sheet tells employees to carry a water bottle with them and drink 8 glasses of water a day;

● organize physical activity contests; posting progress in a central location;

● and much more.

To target employees for wellness interventions, the state recommends employers segment their employee population “into subgroups based on characteristics and demographics that may influence their health related attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”

Check out pages 44-7 and the survey of employees about their personal health and lifestyle behaviors that the Public Health Council thinks people will share with their employers. It tells employers they can obtain more information about their employees from health claims, worker’s compensation claims and other databanks.

Sort of makes you wish you were self-employed.

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