Speaker makes case for effect of fitness on the bottom line

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Any Clark County business leader who thinks initiatives to create healthy workplaces are luxuries rather than necessities ought to talk to Adewale Troutman, director of the Louisville (Ky.) Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

Troutman, who spoke Tuesday to about 180 people at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, walked his audience through a PowerPoint presentation filled with numerous data-backed examples of businesses that have implemented employee wellness programs, and reaped higher levels of productivity and lower health-care costs.

For example, about 80 percent of workers at Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad reported they were more productive because of the company’s exercise programs, while 75 percent reported an increase in their ability to concentrate on tasks. In the first year of a fitness program launched by Canada Life Assurance in Toronto, employee turnover was only 1.8 percent per year among frequent participants, compared with an companywide average turnover of 18 percent before the program was in place.

Troutman also cited workplace health programs that led to decreases in absenteeism and workers compensation claims, and increases in employee morale and productivity. Such programs are good for the bottom line, he said, and they’re “good for the community as well.”

Tuesday’s event — A Healthy State of Mind Contributes to a Healthy Bottom Line — was held by Community Choices, the Vancouver nonprofit that focuses on ways to lead a healthy life, including eating good food, exercising and designing neighborhoods to include sidewalks, parks and grocery stores. The event aimed to get Clark County businesses to talk about how to create healthy workplaces and then to take action.

However, improving the nation’s health won’t happen only through a single company’s or individual’s choice, said Troutman, a medical doctor with more than 40 years’ experience in public health leadership, research and advocacy. The causes of poor health are deeply connected to socioeconomic factors, he said, including a lack of access to good housing, food, jobs, schools and transportation.

Poor and minority neighborhoods often don’t have access to grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, he said. Instead, data show, their neighborhoods are densely populated with fast-food chains. But businesses, nonprofits and schools teamed up in Louisville and brought fresh foods to low-income neighborhoods, Troutman said.

Another key to improving the nation’s health, which is failing in several key areas despite the amount of money spent on it, is to reframe the issue and acknowledge that “health is a human right,” Troutman said.

Health care is “not like building a widget,” he said. “It’s life and death.”