CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) is 700 pounds lighter after just 10 weeks of an employee fitness challenge. The state’s largest health insurer delivered big results with two workplace wellness programs in 2006 aimed at helping its employees become more aware of their health in an effort to change behaviors and stem the tide of rising health care costs.
BCBSNC offered a health-screening program designed to help employees identify, understand and manage key potential health risks that turned out throngs of BCBSNC employees, with participation at more than 85 percent. And Blue ChallengeSMdelivered its biggest impact in three years running, with total pounds lost for all 213 participants totaling nearly 700.
“If it wasn’t for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina providing these kinds of benefits, I would have continued to be a couch potato,” said BCBSNC employee Carolina Morales. “I knew I needed to do something, but I couldn’t find the motivators. Then I thought that if Blue Cross was taking the time and giving me all these resources — if they were willing to commit, then why shouldn’t I be?”
For hereditary and lifestyle reasons, Morales was at high risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. She wasn’t exercising at all and wasn’t watching what she ate. As a result of the screening, Morales is getting involved with other BCBSNC wellness programs and getting fit.
Blue ChallengeSM also motivated employees to take action — and control of their health. Team members had their weight, Body Mass Index and body fat analysis conducted as a benchmark. Teams of two completed customized cardiovascular and strength training exercises as well as weekly challenges focused on nutrition and daily lifestyle adjustments.
“One of our main objectives with the challenge was to empower employees and educate them on how they measure up,” President and CEO Bob Greczyn said. “Once employees know what they need to work on, they can begin to do something about it. We are giving employees the tools they need to make a difference in their lives. We hope other companies are inspired to start similar programs for their employees.”
According to the numbers, Blue ChallengeSM succeeded. Average weight loss for participating employees was more than three pounds per person. On average, each participant lost 1.5 percent body fat. Incentives were built into the program to reward all participants. For some, it was the life-changing wake-up call they needed.
“It changed my way of thinking and living,” said Shannon Bethea, a BCBSNC employee with a history of high blood pressure and obesity, who also suffered from sleep apnea and chronic back pain. “It brought up aspects I had never thought about to incorporate into my daily routine. It made me feel great.”
Bethea joined the challenge because it encouraged her to focus on an exercise program and motivated her to stick with it. She’s now 27 pounds lighter and experiencing fewer medical problems.
The health screenings were open to all employees as a quick, easy, free and confidential service. Employees had their blood glucose level, cholesterol, Body Mass Index, waist measurement and blood pressure tested. Their results pinpointed areas that needed improvement, and high-risk employees were encouraged to follow up with an onsite nurse practitioner. BCBSNC provided a $480 credit toward their 2007 medical plan premiums as an incentive for employees who were also BCBSNC members to participate.
The screenings proved to be helpful with an overwhelming 85 percent employee participation rate, and 60 percent of survey respondents saying they learned something new about their health. Of those respondents, 75 percent said they took action to get healthier, based on their results.
“As an employer, we are focused on creating a culture of wellness,” Greczyn said. “The environment at our workplace is something we can control. We want to reduce the barriers people face and, instead, offer a variety of choices that make it easy to achieve a healthy and active lifestyle during work hours and beyond.”
The health screenings and Blue ChallengeSM are just two of the many strategies BCBSNC has employed to promote workplace wellness and lower health care costs — including serving healthy dining options at the company cafeterias and in vending machines, instituting a tobacco-free campus at all locations, implementing a Weight Watchers at Work subsidy and offering on-site employee fitness centers.
Employers can easily adopt programs like these for their own workplace, by utilizing BCBSNC’s three-step approach. The first step is to create awareness about health risks by holding employees accountable and personally responsible. The second step is to look at the work environment and create policies that support fitness and help employees make healthy choices. The third step is to offer incentives to encourage participation in programs.
According to North Carolina Prevention Partners, the estimated annual cost per employee of unhealthy nutrition, inactivity and tobacco use in NC is on average $5,000 per year. At least a quarter of medical costs are for conditions that are largely preventable. BCBSNC has embraced the employee wellness programs as a way to reduce employer health care cost trends, and encourages other companies to do the same. Investing in employees’ health is a company-wide initiative that enhances employee satisfaction, increases productivity, reduces absenteeism and positively impacts recruitment and retention.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to more than 3.4 million members, including approximately 748,000 served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For 73 years, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at