Obesity in Toledo: Businesses combat obesity through programs, incentivesWritten by Evan Brune | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo has one of the highest obesity rates in America, a nation in which one in three adults is obese. To combat these growing trends, Toledo-area businesses are developing fitness and health programs for employees and city residents.
The riverfront walking path developed by Owens Corning is one of the offerings that can be found in the city.
“[The path] is very nice. I’m glad we have something Downtown,” said Jonas Westrin, an avid runner. “With a combination of this and a group exercise, I don’t have to take blood pressure medicine anymore. My doctor said, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’”
The local produce offered by the Toledo Farmers’ Market is part of another program designed to keep Toledo residents healthy.
The Market’s “Double Up Food Bucks” program allows shoppers with Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or Ohio Direction Cards to double their purchasing power. If shoppers on benefit programs spend $20 at the market, they get an additional $20 to spend on local produce. The program was initially created by the Fair Food Network, based in Ann Arbor.
“The idea was to get people on assistance to eat more nutritious foods,” said Dan Madigan, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Association of Toledo. “The only place they have to buy food is the corner convenience stores, so they end up buying junk food. We’re trying to show the USDA that there’s better ways to implement food stamps.”
The only limitation shoppers have is they must spend the $20 benefit on locally grown produce.
“That’s one thing we have to educate shoppers on,” Madigan said. “Use the double-up bucks first for your produce and then use your card to buy everything else.”
Madigan said the market also offers other resources.
“We offer a once-a-month canning demonstration,” he said. “We demonstrate how to cook them as well as how to save them.”
Madigan said the response from shoppers is overwhelming.
“It’s just really nice, all the people who stop and say thanks,” he said. “I just had a woman last week talk about how she canned all last year and was able to have fresh produce through the winter. It’s the highlight of their summer, being able to come out here and buy fresh food.”
The Fair Food Network has plans to expand the “Double Up Food Bucks” program in Ann Arbor, but Madigan said he doesn’t see much expansion for the Toledo-area program unless more funds become available.
“It’s a very small number of people compared to those who are on food stamps, but we’re small,” Madigan said. “We’re always looking for funding next year.”
Fighting with Imagination
Toledo residents can also learn about personal wellness at Imagination Station, where the “Eat It Up!” exhibit focuses on teaching kids the benefits of eating healthy and staying active.
“It’s not uncommon for a science center to have a health exhibition,” said Lori Hauser, CEO of Imagination Station. “Obviously, childhood obesity is a serious problem that affects lots of children. Eat It Up! puts the focus on nutrition and exercise.”
The program came about through a partnership between the center and ProMedica, which focused on creating a permanent exhibition to promote a joint healthy kids initiative.
“In Ohio, we are 12th in childhood obesity rates, and it can lead to serious issues as an adult,” Hauser said. “If they leave here with just a little bit of information, then that has an impact. I think there are some really cool experiences that they might have and go home and say, ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, this is what I did today. I want to try this.’ Our goal is to try to have a family dialogue going on.”
The exhibit features eight different activity stations, ranging from the Heart Rate Rally, where kids race a series of flashing lights, to the Lifestyle Camera, which shows how lifestyle choices affect future appearance.
“Lifestyle Camera is one of the most popular ones,” said Sloan Mann, assistant director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education at Imagination Station. “You enter your eating habits, exercise habits, and it shows you what you look like years from now. We also have the food smasher, and it’s pretty graphic, but it’s also educating people on what is inside their food.”
Mann said there are a lot of variables to consider when developing a plan to combat childhood obesity.
“The science center sees ourselves as a piece of the puzzle,” she said.
Owens Corning seeks health
Owens Corning, a Toledo-area industrial giant, offers health benefits to its employees in an effort to promote overall well-being.
“Having healthy employees is important to us,” said Mark Snyder, benefits director at Owens Corning.
Employees have access to an onsite fitness center, health seminars and spinning classes. Food in the cafeteria is labeled with nutritional values and on-site health screenings are available.
“We’re trying to create a culture where it’s easy to be healthy,” Snyder said.
Employees have opportunities to reduce what they pay in health care premiums by participating in the various programs.
“Each employee has a health target that they try to reach to lower their health care premiums, but if they don’t reach that in their annual screenings, they have other ways to earn incentive dollars,” Snyder said.
Jeremy Hervey, pricing analyst at Owens Corning, started his job weighing 348 pounds. Thanks to the Owens Corning fitness programs, he now weighs 286 pounds and has run the 5K in the Glass City Marathon.
“I am a huge believer in what the OC Fitness Center had offered me,” Hervey said in an email. “When I got hired into Owens Corning on Oct. 10, 2011, Mindy Calgie, fitness director at Owens Corning, gave me a one month free pass. I was miserable and she gave me hope that I could do something about it. She had me do a mile run as fast as I could do it. I couldn’t run the entire time because it hurt my legs, knees and every other part of my body.”
Hervey said he made a commitment to himself in August of 2012 to do 50 miles on a treadmill in 31 days.
“I finished the 50 miles with four days to spare and I attribute that success to posting a tracking sheet around my team at work and they kept me encouraged and accountable,” he said. “Mindy set up a walking session at lunch two days a week, to walk the bridges and other paths around Owens Corning. That kept me motivated.”
One year after he made his pledge, Hervey is signed up to run his first half-marathon in Dublin, Ohio, on Aug. 25.
“I am not done yet,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to weigh 245-250 pounds and have a total loss of 100 pounds. In all the success I have had with feeling better, breathing better, sleeping better, the most impactful part has been helping others start their own journey. It’s through helping others that I realize that I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. Every time I hear a compliment on how I look and the energy level I possess, it fuels the fire to keep going. This world is hurting for hope in many ways, including a healthier lifestyle.”
Snyder said Owens Corning continues to look for ways to improve on benefit programs offered to employees not only in the Toledo area, but around the world.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We want our employees to be healthy. A healthy employee feels good. If you feel better, you’re going to be a better worker, a better dad, a better husband.”
Tags: Dan Madigan, Farmers’ Market Association of Toledo, Heart Rate Rally, Imagination Station, Jeremy Hervey, Jonas Westrin, Lori Hauser, Mark Snyder, Ohio Direction Cards, Owens Corning, Sloan Mann, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Toledo Farmers’ Market