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ALAN TURNER: The benefits of healthy workplaces

Claude Courtney

Claude Courtney

Murray Harber

Murray Harber

Victor Sutton

Victor Sutton

As we are all aware, Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom among the states in a number of vital health statistics, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Although we have excellent health care facilities in our state, it should be noted that great health care alone cannot change our current poor rankings.

The answer can probably best be found in the need to inform and educate our citizens about healthy lifestyles, nutritional values, tobacco abstention, and other fundamental practices that can help to ensure good health and longer life spans.

A number of groups and associations are working diligently to create awareness of this vital issue, particularly as it relates to workplace health and wellness.

The Mississippi Business Group on Health has partnered with the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Business Journal in a new program to recognize and honor Mississippi companies which have made a concerted effort to create and foster healthy workplaces.

We talked recently with Murray Harber, executive director of the Mississippi Business Group on Health, Victor Sutton, director of preventive health for the Mississippi State Department of Health, and Claude Courtney, division director of Worksite Wellness for the Department of Health.

“We see workplace wellness as critical to our state’s overall progress and economic prosperity,” Sutton said.  “This is an important issue to companies looking to come to Mississippi, as well as an economic fundamental to all the companies currently doing business here.”

Sutton says this is a “highly complex issue” that relates to considerations of culture, poverty, availability of transportation, and other challenges.

“We must be able to change the culture if we expect to change the reality,” he suggested.  “We definitely have big challenges, but we also have great opportunities, and we’re starting to see change happening with business, schools, childhood care, and other ways.”

He suggested there are some simple but effective ways that businesses can help to improve the health of their employees.

“In our offices, we have walking meetings,” he said.  “You don’t have to spend all day in a chair….you can exchange great thoughts and ideas while you’re walking up and down the hall, for instance, and you get the benefit of that exercise.”

Courtney believes that “a lot of this boils down to regular exercise, a healthy diet, and an awareness of what a healthy lifestyle means.”  He is particularly encouraged by the growing number of companies in the state who are undertaking initiatives to create healthier workplaces for employees, and sees the long-term benefits of this working through families at all levels.

“Healthier workplaces mean that everyone benefits,” he said.  “The companies get increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, the employees perform better on their jobs and live healthier lives.  It’s a definite win-win situation.”

Harber agreed with that assessment.  “The simple fact is that 70 percent of good health is tied to lifestyle and genetics,” he said. “It’s important to understand that good health is more a matter of making good decisions than being able to access health care.  Obviously, healthy people need much less health care than unhealthy folks do, and the good news is that almost all of us can lead healthier lives if we just make the commitment to do so.”

The Mississippi Business Group on Health counts some of the state’s largest employers among its members, and there is a growing awareness and commitment to providing healthy workplaces.

“That’s one reason we reached out to the Mississippi Business Journal and the State of Mississippi to partner in creating the Mississippi Healthiest Workplaces program,” he said.  “We think it’s important to recognize and honor companies that are working hard to improve the health and wellness of their employees.”

Companies participating in the program submit detailed information about their wellness programs, and the data is then sifted and evaluated by a panel of judges.  Companies which qualify will then be honored at a special luncheon event to be held at the Jackson Hilton Hotel on Friday, July 31.

The Mississippi Business Journal will publish a special magazine profiling the winning companies.

“We’re really excited about this event,” Harber said.  “The more we can raise awareness in our state about the importance of workplace wellness, the more companies we’ll see adopting good practices in their workplaces.  And you don’t have to be a big company to have a good wellness program.”

Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.


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