State Medical Society Walks the “Get Healthy” Walk

For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2011

 

Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
cell: (512) 413-6807

Brent Annear
phone: (512) 370-1381
cell: (512) 656-7320

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Obesity is epidemic in Texas, threatening health and health care budgets. The Texas Medical Association (TMA) has long advocated for worksite wellness programs to combat this problem. Now employees at America’s largest state medical society aren’t just “talking the talk” about getting more fit; they are “walking the walk” as well.

TMA and TMA Insurance Trust (TMAIT) have embraced a worksite wellness program called Get FIT to improve health and fitness. Employees hit the gym together weekly, and collectively they have shed more than 368 pounds since last year.

“We’re excited to be doing this. TMA’s vision is ‘to improve the health of all Texans,’ so it makes sense to put that into action right here at home,” says Lou Goodman, PhD, TMA’s executive vice president and chief executive officer.  

TMA teamed up with The University of Texas’ (UT’s) Get FIT program in 2010 to offer staff organized workouts and nutrition education over 12-week sessions. TMA currently is in the midst of its fifth session.   

The program produced immediate results after just the first session. The initial class of 32 TMA/TMAIT employees lost a collective 147 pounds, averaging nearly 7 pounds of fat loss while adding more muscle. Word of the success got out, and 68 people joined the next 12-week session, losing 174 pounds — equivalent to a whole person. Success stories abound, like the one Get FIT participant who lost 62 pounds in his first two sessions, and another who dropped 46 “bad” cholesterol points. 

How Get FIT Works: Kinesiology experts at UT’s Get FIT program first analyze each participant’s body composition using a technique called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). It measures how much of an individual’s body is fat, lean, and bone mass. The DEXA method also isolates body regions (arms, trunk, and legs). “Love handles?” Thick thighs? Big backside? As a participant, this writer can attest: One’s first full-body x-ray image might not be pretty: The DEXA reveals all!

TMA uses the carrot approach, rather than the stick: Participation is purely voluntary, but the association incentivizes those who commit to the program. When a staffer signs up, he or she pays the initial cost. However TMA will reimburse participants who don’t miss more than two classes. UT’s Get FIT trainers design and oversee the group workouts, pushing the huffing-and-puffing exercisers twice a week. Workouts are held in the TMA cafeteria, gym, and occasionally outdoors. Typically about 50 people work out together twice each week in one of three different classes, in the early morning or afternoon. A weekly yoga class also is available. A nutritionist also teaches first-time participants about the critical role that proper diet plays in their success.  

“The balance of mind-set, nutrition, and physical activity in this program is a perfect combination,” says TMAIT Get FIT participant Nealy Ramirez. “I have enjoyed the class, had fun, and discovered that I push myself a lot harder in this group setting than in an individual setting.” She adds that the UT staff does a good job of knowing which participants to push to the next level, and when.

The participants’ improved physical health also helps the association’s fiscal health. TMA hopes to show its health insurer that employees are generally in better health so they visit the doctor less often and rely on fewer prescriptions. The plan creates a healthy model for other businesses to follow: Endorse and participate in an employee wellness program to lessen health care utilization, and reduce health care costs in the long-run.

Given the success stories they have seen thus far, TMA leaders know it is possible.

The American Institute for Preventive Medicine found companies save nearly $3.50 in medical costs for every dollar they invest in worksite wellness programs. Participating workers also show up for work more, too: Companies save more than $5.80 in reduced absenteeism per dollar invested.

“TMA and our physician leaders invested in this program because they care about our staff,” says Dr. Goodman. “Though it is a large enough investment to consider thoughtfully, we know it pays dividends in the health and happiness of our people, and in the health of our bottom line, too.”

The fact that TMA offers Get FIT to employees might be one of the reasons the Austin American-Statesman has named TMA to its Top Workplaces list of the best places to work in the greater Austin area.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

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