The American Heart Association heads to the workplace to create healthy cultures


The American Heart Association has set a goal to decrease death from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent, while also improving the heart health of all Americans by 20 percent by 2020.

The Fit-Friendly Worksite program is one of many programs the association has implemented to meet people where they are, in an effort to create a culture where the healthy choice is the easy choice, says Jennifer Scheehle, executive director of the Columbus metro area.

Since 2007, this program — designed to be a catalyst for positive change — has been one of the association’s most successful worksite initiatives. More than 3,000 worksites, representing nearly 10 million employees have been recognized for their outstanding efforts in prioritizing the health and wellness of their employees.

“This year, 101 Central Ohio employers have been recognized as Fit-Friendly — 13 at the Platinum level and 88 at the Gold level,” Scheehle says.

“The American Heart Association is committed to improving and extending the lives of every individual, and the Fit-Friendly program allows businesses to implement solutions that make a difference in people’s health where and how they need it — ultimately driving results to the 2020 Impact Goal,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Scheehle about the Fit-Friendly program in Central Ohio.

SB: Can you tell me a little about how the Fit-Friendly program works?

JS: The Fit-Friendly Worksite program recognizes employers who champion the health of their employees by creating a culture of physical activity and wellness within the workplace.

The American Heart Association offers resources, materials, consultation and support to interested companies, and upon achieving specified goals, the worksite submits an application for recognition. A volunteer review panel reviews the application for recognition status and companies are then recognized at the Gold, Silver or Platinum level, with additional opportunity to receive the Worksite Innovation Award or Community Innovation Award.

SB: Why are worksite wellness programs so important today?

JS: Adult Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work, and many are in sedentary careers.

With obesity costing American businesses $12.7 billion per year in medical expenses and $225.8 billion in health-related productivity losses, any program that increases physical activity of employees will impact the employers’ bottom line as well as improve the health of its employees.

SB: How is the American Heart Association’s program different? What’s the benefit for employers and employees?

JS: Many executives have shared that creating and encouraging an environment of health and wellness isn’t always easy and can’t be done alone. This is where the American Heart Association has stepped in to serve as a resource with the Fit-Friendly Worksite program.

Studies suggest that implementing a worksite physical activity program and promoting a culture of activity will help worksites increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, lower turnover and reduce health care costs.

Specifically studies show:

  • Fitness programs have reduced employer health care costs by 20 to 55 percent.
  • Reducing just one health risk increases a person’s productivity on the job by 9 percent and reduces absenteeism by 2 percent.
  • For every dollar the average company spends on its worksite wellness program, it receives an average net benefit of $3.40 to $7.88.
  • At worksites with physical activity programs, employers have:
    • Reduced short-term sick leave by 6 to 32 percent.
    • Increased productivity by 2 to 52 percent.

SB: Have you made changes to the Fit-Friendly program, or learned some lessons about how to increase the ROI?

JS: Recently the American Heart Association developed a new Healthy Workplace Food and Beverage Toolkit, as well as revamped its smoke-free policies — both of which are being taken into consideration as recognition criteria continues to be evaluated.

With this evaluation, recognition criteria will likely become more specific in these regards, all to further drive the results employers see in their bottom line, as well as the benefits employees see in their overall heart health.