North Texas Daily

UNT honored for healthy living focus in workplace

UNT honored for healthy living focus in workplace

UNT honored for healthy living focus in workplace
April 10
00:16 2014

Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

Everyone knows the University of North Texas “means green,” but last month that motto translated into healthy living – not only for students, but for faculty and staff as well.

On March 24, UNT was awarded the gold level of the Fit-Friendly Worksite award by the American Heart Association. The gold level is reached when a workplace offers assistance to healthy living for employees including, but not limited to, places for physical activity, healthy eating options and incentive programs for living a clean lifestyle.

“It is quite an honor and it is a first,” said Teresa McKinney, dean of students for health and wellness. “The more that we can promote a healthy lifestyle, people will think, ‘They care about me. They care about my welfare.’”

The award’s meaning

McKinney applied for the award in November by filling out an application that provides details about programs that would qualify as part of a “fit-friendly” work environment.

She was notified in January that UNT would receive the award.

UNT was one of 92 universities across the country to receive the award, along with hundreds of businesses. Some other notable universities who also qualified as “fit-friendly” worksites include Yale University, Princeton University and Southern Methodist University.

“The data exists, both from the American Heart Association and others entities, that if you have a focus on health and well-being, that people miss less work, they share their resources with their families and they make their families healthier,” McKinney said. “We’re trying to create a legacy of healthy scholars.”

The data mentioned above also comes from the U.S. Department of Labor. The department funded a study in 2013 that found that healthy lifestyle programs within workplaces could help reduce risk factors such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors such as exercise. The study also found that these behaviors are more likely sustainable over time.

How to get healthy

UNT provides numerous programs for employees to promote exercise such as walking routes along campus, membership to the Pohl Recreation Center and a program that has been in effect since 1987: the Administrative Leave for Fitness program.

Through the program, employees with approval from supervisors are given 20 minutes of paid administrative leave to attend fitness classes or work out at the recreation center.

According to the policy, the leave may only be granted for classes or activities scheduled during the noon hour, immediately before, or immediately after working hours. Employees are granted one leave per day.

“It may not seem like a big deal but we have to account for every minute as a state agency, so it’s a pretty nice perk,” human resources manager Shaureece Park said. “The extra 20 minutes allows for the walk and the changing of clothes so that someone could get a full workout in that time frame.”

Programs also include faculty and staff meal plans at any of the cafeterias or retail dining areas on campus, including the vegan cafeteria, Mean Greens. The plans range from 10 meals for $56.83 (averaging out to $5.25 per meal before tax) to 50 meals for $216.50 (averaging out to $4 per meal before tax), both significantly lower than the door price of $6.95.

“The byproduct of that is that psychologically, you have students and faculty interacting in the dining halls,” said Ken Botts, director of special projects for dining services. “It’s a healthy proposition to be able to eat here, workout here and have less stress, all the things that go along with not having to leave campus.”

Dining services also offers faculty and staff discount lunch days throughout the year. Employees can eat lunch for $4 (before tax) in any cafeteria on campus without purchasing a meal plan. The next spring date is Thursday, April 17.

Botts says attendance in the cafeterias rises significantly during those days.

“That’s a pretty popular day and we get calls about when it is,” he said. “It’s our way to say thank you and also encourage them to get a meal plan.”

Some programs also have the potential to save lives.

Through the Pressure Points program offered by the recreation center, departments can request body mass index and blood pressure checks. One employee was on the verge of a major heart attack before getting checked.

“They were rushed to the hospital and [the recreation center] saved their life because of the check,” McKinney said. “They didn’t even realize how close they were to a major cardiac event.”

Utilization is key

The Administrative Leave for Fitness is successful, Park said, but other programs often go unnoticed.

Human Resources recently hosted a staff appreciation week from March 24 to April 4, and offered free classes and workshops. Some of the healthy living workshops included self-defense, healthy cooking, hula lessons, and desk exercises.

The attendance in each session varied but there were no more than 15 people in a session, Park said.

“They weren’t just chock-full of folks,” she said. “We got probably pretty close to what we expected for about half of them. We were projecting in the 10 people range for attending those sessions.”

Botts says that few employees actually buy the meal plans offered through dining services.

“It’s confusing to me because it’s cheaper than even packing your lunch,” he said. “It’s just them making a purchasing decision. The value is better than anything on the street.”

The next step

Reaching the gold level of the Fit-Friendly Worksite award is an accomplishment, but McKinney plans to aim higher.

The next and highest award level is the platinum level. It is reached when work sites fulfill all the requirements for the gold level award but also see at least one behavior change, such as cost savings outcome or return on investment supported by data.

McKinney is in the process of gathering data and plans to apply for the platinum level next fall.

“Right now, the only thing I can track is the number of faculty who use the Administrative Leave for Fitness program, how many people visit dining and the Pressure Points program,” she said. “We have anecdotal stories all over the place but in terms of looking at the hard facts, that’s where we need to do a little bit better.”

Feature Photo: Dean of Students for Heath and Wellness Teresa McKinney receives a plaque from the American Heart Association, presented by Mayor Mark Burroughs, for reaching the gold level as a Fit-Friendly Worksite on March 24 at an awards ceremony honoring recipients. Photo courtesy of Buddy Price.

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