Pedometers Instead of Chocolates for Valentine’s Day?

NEW YORK -- Think about being the giver or receiver of a pedometer on the most romantic day of the year.  Could there be anything worse?   Is there anyone out there who thinks a gift that encourages weight loss and exercise is a smart Valentine’s gift idea?  Well, one of the nation’s largest health systems and New York area’s largest employers does. 

That’s why, on February 14, the North Shore-LIJ Health System  is taking health and wellness to a new level by challenging its 43,000 employees to team up and walk more than 7.2 million steps in three months – measured by the organization’s Valentine’s gift of pedometers – for a chance to win a free trip.  And just to show that North Shore-LIJ hasn’t lost touch with its romantic side, the destination for the winning trip is what many consider to be the most romantic city in the world – Paris, France.

“This is by far the biggest employee contest we’ve embarked on in the history of the health system,” said North Shore-LIJ’s President and CEO Michael Dowling.  “We hope the grandeur of the contest emphasizes our commitment to supporting a culture of health within our organization. Working in the healthcare field and caring for the community often makes it challenging for our employees to make their health a top priority, especially when they are working shifts around the clock and often in stressful situations. We hope the Walk to Paris provides the incentive and resources to enable and encourage them to get fit and have fun.”

The Walk to Paris is one of many initiatives that North Shore-LIJ is rolling out to improve the health and wellness of its employees and the community at large, says Mr. Dowling, citing the nation’s high obesity rates and the focus on wellness in the nation’s health reform law as factors driving North Shore-LIJ’s commitment to fitness. 

 “According to the CDC, about one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents aged two to 19 are obese,” Mr. Dowling said. “Our own data reveals that our employees are no exceptions to this dangerous jump in obesity rates. It’s a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed now.” 

He also cited a recent National Center for Biotechnology Information study that found that a physician’s own BMI played a significant role in determining the confidence the doctor had as to whether a patient would follow weight-loss counseling (if the physician happened to be heavier than the patient, for example) or if the physician would be confident enough to even broach the subject. “These are important issues that impact us all. Our clinicians need to be healthy role models for their patients,” Mr. Dowling said. “The Walk to Paris is designed to be a fun competition, but the bottom line is, we need to get serious about our health.”

Registration for the Walk to Paris challenge starts on February 14 and the walking challenge begins on March 20.   Each team of 10 will be given a suitcase filled with necessities for the three months of competition, including a $30 pedometer for each individual to monitor and track his/her steps. Employees will be able to record their steps and track the performance of other teams on a new wellness website that will also feature wellness resources, articles and tips.Each team that walks at least 7.2 million steps in the three months – that’s about 8,000 steps per day per employee – will be entered into a raffle for the prize.

“The best thing about this competition is everyone truly comes out a winner because they will improve their health,” said Jennifer Mieres, MD, a cardiologist and North Shore-LIJ’s senior vice president of community and public health. “By competing in this challenge, each employee will be looking at ways to make walking a regular part of their daily routine, which is proven to provide health benefits. And a little fun, healthy competition and a prize doesn’t hurt, either.” 

For the grand prize, the health system will send the winning team of 10 employees to Paris, paying for round-trip airfare in partnership with Delta Airlines and a four-night hotel stay. Discount companion packages will also be available so employees can bring a guest. The 10 members of the second-place team will each receive $400 Delta airfare vouchers.

The Walk to Paris competition is just one of many programs North Shore-LIJ has instituted as part of its employee wellness initiative. The health system also recently announced its Know Your Numbers campaign, which offers all employees a free health screening and blood test to learn if they are at risk for certain illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. In the past few months, thousands of employees have participated in on-site screenings and counseling sessions. As part of its medical benefits plan, the health system also reduces employees’ out-of-pocket health insurance premiums by $40 per paycheck (or more than $1,000 a year) if they: 1) get a flu vaccination; 2) get a physical examination; 3) complete an online health assessment; and 4) either quit smoking or pledge not to smoke.

The health system is also launching a new wellness website devoted to providing information and resources about how to stay healthy. “Wellness is not a fad – we want it to become a core part of our culture here at North Shore-LIJ,” said Mr. Dowling. “By enabling and encouraging our employees to make their health a priority, we know it will have a positive impact on those we serve in the community.”


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