When employees of Huntington Ingalls Industries subsidiary AMSEC LLC say they've lost a ton of weight, they're not kidding.

Since May 2009, 68 of the Navy and commercial maritime industry supplier's roughly 2,000 employees have participated in a Weight Watchers At Work program - losing a combined 2,000 pounds. WW@Work also was rolled out to the company's Hampton, Va., location before it began measuring results.

But the weight-loss initiative is just one component of a larger effort that appears to be paying off in a number of ways. AMSEC also has been providing onsite mammograms and biometric health screenings, as well as organizing teams that participate in the American Heart Association Heart Walk on both coasts. In addition, the company implemented an employee wellness and healthy lifestyle program in 2010 and tobacco-free workplace in January 2011 - reimbursing employees $200 for smoking cessation programs or medication.

AMSEC has seen a downward trend in claim costs involving group medical and short- and long-term disability costs during the past two years that is expected to continue. Kelly Carlan, AMSEC's director of human resources, also reports a 15% decrease in STD premiums in 2012 and anticipates no increase in LTD disability premiums for 2013.

This year, AMSEC received the American Heart Association Gold Achievement Award for being a fit-friendly company. It also recently rolled out a voluntary program called "Know Your Numbers," which enables employees to qualify for a chance to win one of 60 VISA gift cards valued at $250 each if they meet three of five National Institute of Health Biometric Standards.

Nearly all the WW@Work program participants who were polled about their experiences said they had an increased amount of energy and stamina, which made them more productive at home and work. Others, who were less active at work due to the nature of their job, felt they had more energy at the end of the day to do more work at home. WW@Work provides information, tools and motivation to eat healthier as well as exercise.

AMSEC employees who lost a significant amount of weight said they generally felt more confident about their appearance and ability to accomplish wellness goals. They also had higher self-esteem and a more positive attitude. In addition, they were able to develop good relationships with their fellow Weight Watchers en route to achieving a common goal. Indeed, their support was seen as instrumental in learning new approaches to weight loss, as well as staying focused, and motivated the employees to change their lifestyle.

Program participants also said they felt healthier after losing weight. "Because our workforce has different physical activity requirements - some employees have desk jobs, others work on military vessels - the responses were mixed," Carlan reports.

Several employees, for example, said they were able to move around a ship more easily to work and supervise their employees, while others no longer needed to take medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. The weight loss also made employees more agile and better able to perform normal daily tasks, while some no longer felt joint pain.

"This means three things," says Harris Leonard, president of AMSEC operations. "We are exercising, eating right and taking better care of ourselves."

AMSEC's leadership has seen the WW@Work program boost employee morale and camaraderie. Program participants said they were grateful to know the company values a healthy lifestyle and promotes Weight Watchers at work, which they found to be convenient. "Some commented they would not have joined had it not been for the fact they could attend weekly lunchtime meetings at work," Carlan explains. "Others wrote they merged their personal and professional lives, and it increased their loyalty to the company."

There also was an understanding that while the company's motivation may be to reduce health care costs and improve productivity, the program also benefits employees and fosters a caring culture of health. One employee wrote: "I know that improving the bottom line also keeps the company 'healthy' and this, in turn, keeps me employed. I know they also do it because at AMSEC, we're a family, and we care about each other."

AMSEC, whose employees work in 27 sites worldwide, provides naval architecture and marine engineering, naval ship systems assessments, maintenance engineering, waterfront maintenance support, acquisition program support and shipyard industrial engineering and support services. Parent company Huntington Ingalls Industries designs, builds and maintains nuclear and nonnuclear ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. The company employs nearly 38,000 people in Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and California.

Bruce Shutan, a former EBN managing editor, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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