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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Apr 4, 2007    #048
Contact: Noemi Rojas, UMKC public relations
(816) 235-1520

University of Missouri makes health and wellness priority Major wellness initiative targets stress, smoking, weight and inactivity

The University of Missouri is preparing to spread a wellness initiative to all four campuses in the UM system. This comes on the heels of a successful 2004 pilot program.

The program assessed the health and wellness needs of more than 1,000 University of Missouri Health Care employees. Stress was identified as the number one issue, followed by weight problems, inactivity and smoking. More than half of those surveyed reported no regular physical activity and more than 60 percent reported being overweight.

“Most employers that sponsor wellness programs have a significant return on the investment, ranging from three to as much as seven dollars for every dollar invested,” said Laura Schopp, director of the Thomas Atkins University of Missouri Wellness Program and associate professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. “Providing a wellness program lowers health care costs, reduces absenteeism, improves morale, and is just the right thing to do.”

UM’s pilot program offered a stress reduction class, a ‘Freedom from Smoking’ program, and health fairs with free screenings. Weight Watchers at work was initiated. The tobacco-free policy was extended to the entire grounds of the hospital. The program also paid the tab for smokers who wanted nicotine replacement therapy for a month and offered it at a reduced cost after that.

“In a small pilot program, we documented a decrease in the use of pain medication from people who participated in the stress management program,” Schopp said. “We saw some of our toughest critics of the tobacco-free grounds policy turn around after attending smoking cessation classes and become advocates for wellness. Many of our former smokers have become strong and effective role models for others.”

Part of the program also encouraged employees to participate in “Shape Up Missouri,” a statewide challenge in which teams strive to reach weight loss and/or physical activity goals. UMHC employees took top honors in the challenge and were recognized as having the highest employer enrollment in the state.

The program was recently renamed the “Thomas Atkins UM Wellness Program” in honor of the member of the Board of Curators who initiated the idea.

Curator Emeritus Atkins recently donated $30,000 (for a total of $105,000) to advance the program and extend it to all campuses. Future efforts will include health assessment, intervention and outcomes evaluation on each of the UM campuses — Columbia, Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City. Long-range goals include full integration of the research, teaching and service functions of the University with respect to health promotion and workplace wellness.

“We are in a unique position in that most corporate wellness programs do not have the internal health and wellness resources that we as a land-grant, multi-campus university system have,” Schopp said. “We have considerable health expertise, some excellent facilities and superb researchers, and we will bring all of these assets to bear on improving health.”

UMKC, one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a three-part mission: visual and performing arts, health and life sciences, and urban affairs.

 

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