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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 5, 200712:00 PM EST

JEA honored by American Heart Association for being 'Fit Friendly Company'

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Something JEA started in 1989 that has been a hit with employees ever since was recognized for workplace innovation this week by the American Heart Association.

Eight years ago, people who worked at JEA’s Downtown offices said they’d like to have an on-site fitness facility, so JEA management offered the space, maintenance and security if the employees would provide the equipment. The plan was innovative enough then and it’s successful enough now that the public utility company was notified Monday morning it has been awarded both the AHA’s Gold Award and Workplace Innovation Award. Just 19 companies in the nation and only two in the Southeast were recognized for their innovative programs that encourage and motivate workforce wellness.

“We benefit as a company and our employees benefit with better health and fitness. Wellness is part of our core values program for our employees,” said JEA CEO Jim Dickenson, who is also chair of the 2007 Start! Heart Walk.

The Downtown fitness center is one of seven at JEA locations county-wide, said Dr. Sharon Clark, JEA’s Health Promotion Specialist. She also said more than 90 percent of the company’s 2,100 employees participate in combination health and safety programs that are available.

The Downtown fitness center is one of the most popular.

“It has been a great partnership and a great example of what can happen with corporate commitment and employee involvement. Our comprehensive wellness programs and activities have resulted in decreasing numbers of employees who are overweight and have high blood pressure.”

At a “Lunch and Learn” Tuesday, more than 100 JEA staff members learned about nutrition and fitness programs that are easy to integrate into their workplace.

“We’re in the prevention field,” said Amanda Skinner, senior director for the AHA’s Start! Heart Walk First Coast division.

She cited statistics gathered since 1985 that show Americans are becoming more obese with each passing year. The latest data indicates more than 20 percent of the U.S. population is overweight by federal standards.

“Americans are among the most productive people in the world, but technology has made it easy for us to do so much of our work sitting down. Simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or just getting out and walking during part of your lunch hour can make a major positive difference in your fitness. Walking as little as 30 minutes a day three or four days a week can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke,” said Skinner.

Skinner also pointed out “Men’s Health” magazine recently named Jacksonville as one of the “25 Fattest Cities in America.”

Heidi Katzin, a nutritionist and one of the founders of That-a-Weigh Kids,

a weight management program for overweight children and teens, said childhood obesity has become epidemic.

“Nationwide, 15 percent of youth ages 16-19 are overweight. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that Jacksonville’s overweight teens are double the national average. That means everyone in this room is either facing the problem at home or knows somebody who is. It’s not just an appearance issue, it’s a basic health issue,” she said.

Dickenson said he was eager to chair the Start! Heart Walk because, “I probably don’t walk as much as I should. One of the reasons I got involved is to do more things I know I should do.”

He also said he expects as many as 8,000 people will participate in this year’s walk on Sept. 15.

“You don’t have to register or sign up to collect any donations. Just come out that morning and bring your family. We wish everyone in Jacksonville would walk with us just three miles and take advantage of the wellness information and screenings that will be available.”

For information about how you or your company can participate in the Sept. 15 Start! Heart Walk at Metropolitan Park, call 739-0197 or visit http://firstcoastheartwalk.kintera.org.

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