Heart of New Ulm Project: A Community's Quest to Eliminate Heart Attacks

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "The Town That Lost 7,961 Pounds," January/February 2013

How the town of New Ulm joined together to lose weight, lower cholesterol levels and eat healthier.

To really make a difference, however, HONU knew it had to approach people at work, where they spend most of every day. HONU collaborates with 38 worksites, including J&R Schugel Trucking, Inc., which employs 600 truck drivers and 87 office workers.

The 2009 HONU health screen of the J&R Schugel office staff showed that 32 percent of workers had metabolic syndrome, 29 percent were smokers and 79 percent were overweight or obese. Consulting with HONU’s dietitians, Leah Peck, the company’s human resources director, started trying to improve the company’s work environment in small ways.

The company organized a 5K walk/run, complete with training calendars and a healthy cooking contest at the end. Peck arranged for a CSA to deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to work. And, after the company’s president put it out for a vote, the campus went tobacco-free.

Peck also harangued her vending-machine company: since there are no places to get food close by, employees and truckers rely on the vending machines. “So I said, ‘I want baked meals at eye level, and they should be less expensive than fried items, and there needs to be dry snacks that are high in protein, low in saturated fat.’”

For truckers who are sedentary up to 11 hours a day and whose only meal options are often fast-food joints or roadside convenience stores, Peck had to be creative. She gives truckers the HONU grocery store packet that helps them “choose this, not that,” emphasizing healthier options in each area of the store. She also hands out brochures with 300- to 500-calorie healthier meal options at fast-food places. As for exercise? “I tell them, park at the farthest end of the rest area, go to the bathroom, walk around the whole rest area, a big loop, it will take you 10 minutes to get back to your truck. Do that three times, and you’ve gotten in your 30 minutes,” she says.

J&R Schugel’s truck drivers and office workers are starting to show improvements in their health: metabolic syndrome has been reduced by 3 percent and overweight has declined by 3 percent. “If our company can show any success—a high-stress environment with a lot of tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle and eating on the run—imagine what you can do in your office,” Peck says.

With their motto, “a well-driver is a safe driver,” the company sees employee health as part of its duty. “We’re spending more time with employees than they do with their family. And if we don’t have a positive impact on some choices in their life, shame on us!” Peck declares. “We are the best opportunity to learn about healthy eating.”

Next: Changing for Good »

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