For global industrial company Lafarge North America, Inc., health risks threatened its very foundation and employee base. Workers' compensation claims showed that many of the company's drivers were so obese they were injuring themselves when climbing up ladders in the trucks.

"Chronic health is our biggest and most formidable health issue," Philia Swam, Lafarge director of health benefits and employee insurance, told attendees at EBN's Benefit Forum & Expo. With an average age of 46 among the 12,000 employees in North America, "we are an aging population, which means higher health care costs [and] more risk for chronic conditions," she said.

When internal data showed the majority of Lafarge's employee population hadn't had an annual physical - despite such visits being free for employees and spouses - she knew she and her team had to better promote preventive care.

In 2005, Lafarge launched the "Building a Better You" program, was rolled out in tiers.

"We spent two years just building awareness," she explained. Her team described the benefits and showed employees how to use them. Wellness education continued year-round with ongoing benefit communication.

From 2007 to 2010, Swam and her team focused on fostering behavior change. To increase engagement, they used financial incentives and a value-based formulary for certain chronic conditions. The team also sent birthday postcards home, offering employees and spouses free gift cards if they got age- and gender-appropriate screenings such as mammograms or colonoscopies.

The company also started providing onsite health screenings and free onsite health assessments for employees and spouses with a financial incentive, using metrics for most health factors, tobacco cessation, and nutrition and weight.


The 'Lafarge Three'

Starting in 2011, Lafarge focused on outcomes-based programming, and began a unique outreach plan to engage employees to take control of their health by producing a reality show with celebrity doctor Michael Roizen.

Known as "The Lafarge Three," three employees were selected to have Dr. Roizen - famous for his TV appearances with Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz - film them as he coached them over several months. In the video, an obese employee in his late 20s gasps when Roizen, the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, reveals his body is actually middle aged. Now, after following the doctor's nutrition suggestions and exercise plan, his body is now just two years older than his actual age.

"The new energy level is incredible," the employee explains to the camera. "The difference is night and day compared to when I started this program." His wife has lost significant weight as well, and has carried her enthusiasm for wellness to her own workplace.

The Lafarge Three are not running marathonsor making huge changes; they are simply eating well and walking - simple changes that have made all the difference.

DVDs of the Lafarge Three were sent to all of company locations and the video is available online. "This program used real-life testimonials to change people's lives," Swam said.


Behind the scenes

The success of the program, though, hinged on more than just a celebrity partner, Swam said.

"Most people who smoke, are overweight or have chronic conditions are usually older than their calendar age. When they see [that number difference], that's the 'Aha!' moment," she said.

The wellness program also marketed nutrition by educating employees on how the five food felons - saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and syrups, enriched, processed grains, and enriched flours - affect overall health and how eating well can reverse chronic conditions.

Many factory locations have removed the "felons" from vending machines and catering orders.

"A lot of the plants have eliminated their vending machines already, and are bringing in fresh fruit for snacks [during meetings] instead of donuts," Swam said. Though she admitted some still bring in donuts, they've reduced the amount and offset the choice by also offering fruit.

To encourage employees to get active, Lafarge partnered with Shape Up The Nation. Participants received Fitbit pedometers for an eight-week health challenge, with rewards along the way to keep them motivated. Swam estimated she gave away 40 iPads during the challenge to maintain engagement. As a result, participants exercised about 51 minutes each day and lost a combined 583 pounds over the eight weeks.


Online coaching

Lafarge also partnered with Enforcer eCoaching Inc. and the Cleveland Clinic to use an e-health coaching program. The program is email-based, so employees can use smartphones to communicate with their coaches.

If employees sign up, they receive two free pedometers, a tape measure to report their waist circumference, a food portions control plate, and a book co-authored by Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz.

The wellness program also features a tobacco cessation component that doesn't have employees actually quit smoking until day 30, but rather asks them monitor daily activity with their pedometer to prepare for a healthy transition. In addition to an 82% quit rate within the first seven months of 2012, participants have also lost weight - about 11 pounds on average.

"If we don't have healthy and productive people at work, we can't deliver our product and serve our customers," Swam said, noting that she's gratified by the results as well as employee success stories.

"They're having healthy foods at their meetings or they've brought in experts to teach employees about healthy options, and they're doing it on their own," she explained. "That's how I know that we've reached a point where it has become more of a grassroots initiative."

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