A Powerful Combo: Getting Healthy and Giving Back

For Seagate Technology, the 2011 Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge was both a wellness competition and an exercise in team-building and philanthropy. The disk-drive manufacturer used the contest to encourage employees to focus on healthy behaviors while also giving back to the community. Seagate saw great results: the company’s nine teams lost a total of 1,346 pounds.

“When employees participate in physical activity and wellness practice, the impact on employee health, attitude, and camaraderie is obvious,” says David Brown, chief technologist and a member of the site’s executive management team. “We are proud of our success in the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge and will continue to support healthy behaviors at our worksite.”
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Oh, Snap! Four Weight Losers Win Free Gym Memberships


White Bear Lake woman earns a one-year Snap Fitness membership by exercising, eating right, and losing weight during statewide competition.

WHITE BEAR LAKE – A broken ankle and a sweet tooth didn’t stop Cindi Rulli from making great strides toward meeting her health and fitness goals during the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge. Now Rulli will have a new tool to continue her healthy lifestyle: she won one of four free memberships to Snap Fitness by placing in the top 1,000 in the weight loss, nutrition, or exercise categories of the statewide competition.

The Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge “was a great experience, and I look forward to using my membership,” says Rulli, who runs, inline skates, and horseback rides to stay fit. During the competition, she lost 11 pounds or 8 percent of her body weight. “I’m feeling healthy, and it’s fun to buy clothes in small sizes.”
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Medical Resident Dominates the Colleges and Universities Division


The Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge inspires 22,000 Minnesotans to lose 76,048 pounds.

BROOKLYN PARK – John Paul Pham of Brooklyn Park knew that when he became a doctor, his patients would turn to him for advice on getting and staying healthy. Hearing about the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge, he thought it would be the perfect way to get fit while also training for a marathon. Along the way to meeting those goals Pham, an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, captured first place in the Colleges and Universities Division, winning both the nutrition and weight loss category, dropping nine percent of his body weight and earning 15,545 points for minutes and intensity of exercise.

“I wanted to be a better role model for my future patients,” says Pham, who is heading to California for his medical residency. Though he struggled to balance eating less while exercising more, Pham mastered some new strategies for success during the competition. “I eventually learned to eat half of my food at the restaurant and box half for a later meal.”
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40 Pounds Down, He’s Dreaming Big Dreams

Matthew Bayer after losing 40 pounds in the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge. Congratulations, Matthew!


College employee discovers the secret to his weight loss success through the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge.

APPLE VALLEY – Matthew Bayer of Apple Valley often dreamt of a career in law enforcement, but his weight repeatedly held him back. Thanks to the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge and the support of his family member teammates, he’s on his way to putting that dream in reach. Bayer lost 40 pounds during the wellness competition, earning a spot as one of the Top 50 weight losers in the state.

“My goal is to be healthy and fit enough to do law enforcement work. That’s a huge motivator for me that I do not think will ever leave,” says Bayer, 31, a safety coordinator at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “Even though I have lost a good amount of weight just in the first three to four months, I have a long way to go.”

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Losing Weight and Winning, Landscape Structures Style

Landscape Structures team at their final weigh-in for the Minnesota Challenge.


Six company employees ranked in the top 50 statewide for weight loss during the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge.

DELANO – As a designer of large-scale playground equipment, Landscape Structures, Inc., has strongly emphasized employee wellness during its 40-year history. It’s no stranger to weight loss competitions, so joining this year’s statewide Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge was a no-brainer. This time the staff really rose to the task: six employees ranked in the top 50 for pounds of weight loss statewide, including the first, second, and sixth place finishers, shedding as much as 60 pounds.

“We wanted to see how we can do as a company compared to the rest of Minnesota. It was so successful here and people really came together and supported each other. It was amazing to see,” says Holly Williams, human resources and wellness program manager at Landscape Structures, which has an onsite nurse and personal trainer.
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Good Eats for Every Body

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“Nutrition applies to everyone,” says Jacque Hahn. She and the other 10 employees at Mark!t in Rochester do not smoke and quite a few people already regularly exercise—but everybody eats. So eating better became the main focus for the marketing firm’s wellness efforts. For its wellness program, Rochester-based Eastwood Bank, which has long hosted weight-loss programs, emphasized healthy eating and added increasing activity among employees.

These two businesses are among 11 in Olmsted County that received worksite wellness grants from the Statewide Health Improvement Program. SHIP encourages healthier habits at worksites throughout Minnesota—and among more than 2,700 people in Olmsted County alone.

Improvements advocated by SHIP are important because, in the United States, preventable chronic diseases account for about 75 cents of every dollar spent on health care, according to a Kaiser Health News piece by Kenneth Thorpe, executive director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, and Jonathan Lever, vice president for health strategy and innovation at the YMCA of the USA. Moreover, about 80 percent of heart disease and type-2 diabetes and 40 percent of cancers could be prevented by doing three things: exercising more, eating better and avoiding tobacco, say Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts.

As employees at Mark!t and Eastwood Bank have found, preventing chronic disease can be tasty, tailored to individuals, and even fun. Healthy potluck contests, with rules about allowable amounts of fat, sodium and carbohydrates, were held at each of Eastwood Bank’s 11 locations. Favorite recipes were forwarded to the wellness committee for a taste test—and the winning taco soup maker received a $100 gift card. “Because people became so excited about this,” says Joleen Mittelstadt, human resource officer, “we’re taking the recipes and making a cookbook.”

Mark!t switched to healthy snacks in the office and using SHIP funds matched by employee contributions, hired a licensed dietitian to advise individuals. The meal plan the dietitian created for a man concerned he’s too thin differs from how she advised Tammy Hester, who wanted to avoid that starving feeling before dinnertime. Hester says that, given all the claims on grocery items, “I really wondered what a healthy snack was.” Now she knows how to read nutrition labels. And Hahn, following the dietitian’s guidance, ate better and saw results: her cholesterol dipped below 200 for the first time in years.

Moving more is key to health, too. At Eastwood, some employees have been doing yoga at work for about three years. With help from SHIP, they’ve extended that fitness commitment to other activities that interest employees, such as body sculpting. Through the local health club, the wellness committee tried a dance-based fitness routine, too.

“We have some guys on our wellness committee,” Mittelstadt says, “and to see them do Zumba was so much fun.” •

Eastwood Bank Wellness Committee poses for a picture in their Yoga space. They have found success in holding Yoga classes during the lunch hour and after work.


Take Good Care of Yourself

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Recommendations to eat healthily, be active and quit tobacco—the three-pronged approach advocated by the Statewide Health Improvement Program to cut chronic disease costs and suffering—suit Bonnie Frisk perfectly. A public health worker in Blue Earth County, Frisk says: “I’m passionate about our work on SHIP projects. Making healthy improvements really fits what’s best for our community.”

That attitude is helping business develop a culture of health. “We spend so much time at work, “ Frisk says, “it just makes sense that we take care of ourselves at our worksites.” In Blue Earth County, worksites numbering from nearly 50 to a college campus with more than 16,000 people are taking advantage of SHIP grants and interventions to make healthy choices easy choices.

Healthier Workplaces, Healthier Workers, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota program, has been adopted by seven businesses, including the Mankato Clinic. Although clinic programs already encouraged healthy habits, since SHIP, the clinic now has a wellness committee with the following purpose statement: “The vision of Wellness for Life is to improve the overall well-being of our staff, which will also support the clinic’s mission to improve patient care.”

One of the particular challenges of the clinic, says Sara Will, human resources administrator, is that about 85 percent of their 710 staff are female. These are moms, grandmothers and caregivers who typically put the needs of others first. “Many of these women find it difficult to find time for themselves, yet they are interested in living healthier lives for themselves and for their families,” Will says. “Our wellness committee wants to provide our staff with tools and techniques to help them live that healthier life.”

With two young children, Will also faces the issue of work-life balance. She rises early to walk and run. “That’s the only time I have to do it,” she says. She has a friend join her, which helps keep her accountable for her health. And at the clinic, management has a role in encouraging staff to take care of themselves. Frisk says, “They must recognize the importance of providing staff time to take a walk or to have stretching breaks during the day.”

Mankato Clinic’s efforts include wellness activities throughout the year punctuated by short-term shape-up challenges. This coming fall, Will says the clinic will take advantage of internal resources such as dietitians and a psychologist to tackle weight-loss issues.

Improving the health of staff also may improve the clinic’s fiscal health. “Last year, our health plan was  $1 million over budget,” Will says. While this year’s budget is fine so far, she adds, the clinic needs to be proactive. Perhaps in the long run, it can bring down its health plan costs.

The wisdom of wellness, Frisk says, is in moderation. “We tell people not to deprive themselves of things they love,” she says. “If you go camping, have that roasted hot dog and a s’more.” But be mindful of what you are eating and moderate about how much. •

Mankato Clinic team members join the MS walk together.


Losing Weight, Gaining Exercise Options

Carla Peck with former Biggest Loser Contestant Jesse Atkins, at an awards ceremony for Hennepin County.


Carla Peck wins one of four Snap Fitness memberships during statewide weight loss competition.

BURNSVILLE – Through the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge, Carla Peck started exercising more and paying close attention to eating healthy food. Those efforts paid off in more ways than one. Not only did she lose seven pounds during the statewide weight loss competition, Peck won a one-year membership to Snap Fitness. Four participants who placed in the top 1,000 in the weight loss, nutrition, or exercise categories earned that prize.

“The membership to Snap Fitness will enhance what I’ve already been doing,” says Peck, who plans to add weight lifting at the gym to her regular walking regime. “The free Snap membership will really make it easier to keep up with my exercise goals for the next year … by encouraging me to keep active, taking time out from the work day to work out, and the weight loss I’ve already had.” She has lost a total of 20 pounds since January 2010 and is continuing toward her long-term weight loss goal.
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Doing Good While Losing Weight


Capt. Kate Jones of the McLeod County Jail gets motivated to help area food banks while participating in a statewide wellness competition.

GLENCOE – Kate Jones already was quite active, cross-country skiing and doing aerobics, but she joined the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge to keep herself motivated and help others through its food drive.

Jones is thrilled that the Minnesota Alliance team raised the nearly 60,000 pounds of donations to food banks through the Pound for Pound Challenge. For every pound of weight participants pledged to lose, a pound of groceries got delivered to local food banks.

During the statewide wellness competition, she gained inspiration by “being able to be a part of something bigger than myself. The knowledge that a portion of our results would be able to benefit our local food shelves was a huge motivator for me,” says Jones, who is administrator of the McLeod County Jail. “The Challenge was an awesome way to involve so many people.”
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He’s a Prize-Winning Weight Loser


Cory Marquart of Morris earns a one-year gym membership by focusing on fitness during statewide wellness competition.

MORRIS – Cory Marquart never wants to let down his team, whether he is volunteering as a member of the Morris Fire Department or participating in the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge. That loyalty motivated him to exercise for 3,600 hours during the health and wellness competition and won him a free year-long membership to Snap Fitness. The prize was part of the Challenge, which attracted 22,000 participants across Minnesota.

“I have been working out for a while now, and sometimes getting excited to go work out can be hard,” says Marquart, an engineer at the University of Minnesota–Morris’s Renewable Energy Center. “I knew that I could help my team out, and I didn’t want to let the team down.”
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