King County health program wins $100,000 prize

SEATTLE -- Life in a cubicle can take its toll. Multiple health studies show all that sitting makes blood pressure go up, muscles degenerate and the brain slow down.

In 2005, King County launched a health and wellness program to encourage employees to eat healthy, move more, quit smoking and get a flu shot. The program has been so successful, Harvard University this week deemed it the best of 600 programs it studied and awarded the county a $100,000 grant. The money is meant to help the county teach other government groups and businesses how to implement a similar program.

There are many components, including a walking work station. It's a desk attached to a treadmill that runs at a recommended two miles an hour. Karleen Sakumoto manages the county's health and well being program. "The cool part is that this is something we've made available to the rest of the county. It's not just for employees on this floor. You reserve it like you would a conference room," Sakumoto said.

From 2007-2011, 800 county employees quit smoking, and the workforce dropped a whopping 24 tons of weight. Twenty of those pounds used to be on Dave Murphy, who wanted to lower his diabetes risk. "I didn't expect that dramatic a change," Murphy said. "But I was told by my physician, you're really not at risk right now. As long as you maintain the lifestyle you're doing now, you're lower risk."

The changes have saved the county $46 million in health care costs. "When our employees take care of themselves, we have lower costs," County Administrative Officer Caroline Whalen said. "And that's good for the taxpayer and it's good for our employees. They feel better."

Christy Massey uses the program to stay calm. Daily text messages remind her to destress. "Especially when things are really bugging me," she said. "You know when your mind is churning, churning, churning? I turn to the mindfulness techniques that I learn and think, okay, just breathe. Deep breaths for 10 minutes, and that helps me."

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