1. Farmers markets bloom at hospitals
For years, hospitals have embodied a paradox. As patients are tethered to dialysis machines, and many lay bedridden from obesity-related diseases, the hospitals' fast food joints and cafeterias dispense fried goodies and slick burgers that contributed to such conditions. Some hospitals around the country have gone on a diet: Deep fryers have gone cold, trans fats have been banished, and the glow of the golden arches (and other fast food symbols) have dimmed as leases have quietly gone unrenewed. Instead, these hospitals are offering an alternative food source: farmers markets. Patients who've been warned to improve their diets can now walk out of the hospital and find locally grown strawberries, apricots and baby red potatoes sold on the parking lot. Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest not-for-profit health system, has 30 farmers markets in mostly Western states like California, Washington and Oregon. "The focus on local food systems gives us food that's good for us, good for our children, good for farmers that grow it and it's good for the Earth," said Dr. Preston Maring, a family physician for 38 years who brought the concept of farmers markets to Kaiser in 2003. Having locally grown fruits and vegetables next to a hospital gives people the visual connection between good food and better health, Maring said. "It's clear to me over all these years what people eat is the single most important determinant of their overall health. It just struck me one day -- why not bring good food to a place where people get their health care to see if it could become a focal point for education?"
CNN by Madison Park June 3, 2009
2. When all else fails: Forcing workers into healthy habits
Last year, AmeriGas Propane Inc. gave its employees an ultimatum: get their medical checkups, or lose their health insurance. The nationwide propane distributor took the unusual step after facing years of steep increases in the cost of health coverage for its roughly 6,000 workers. The company’s work force was aging, and many employees had unhealthy habits—the average worker is 46, and around 44% are smokers. And people weren’t getting tests or preventive care that could help them avoid heart attacks, diabetes or cancer. AmeriGas had tried a number of voluntary wellness programs to encourage healthy habits in its employees. But the company concluded that “optional programs just don’t work,” says Bill Katz, vice president for human resources. Workers and their covered spouses would have a year to complete the tests, which are covered 100%, or lose their insurance. And they’d need to keep getting the checkups at least every two years in order to retain the health benefits. AmeriGas, based in Valley Forge, Pa., is one of just a handful of companies that have mandated health testing, but benefits consultants say it is at the cutting edge of a growing trend. In a February survey by consulting firm Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby Inc. 45% of companies said they planned to, or were considering, adding penalties for employees who didn’t participate in wellness activities.
The Wall Street Journal by Anna Wilde Mathews July 10, 2009