Safeway rewards employees for keeping fit

July 22, 2009 7:24:59 PM PDT
One Bay Area company has found a way to dodge the high cost of health care. Safeway has introduced a health care plan that rewards employees for keeping fit and making healthy choices.

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Steve Burd is a man in constant motion. The CEO of Safeway, would rather do his job on his feet than from his office chair.

"I don't like to summons people to my office. I'd rather get up and go to theirs. We've damaged our metabolism sitting here for this length of period," says CEO and President of Safeway Steve Burd.

So it's only fitting that someone so serious about his own health has taken on a second job -- passionately pushing a health care plan that rewards healthy behavior. It's an idea that's received national attention by being used as an example by President Obama.

Twenty-five thousand Safeway employees have signed up. They measure their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and whether they smoke. Score well, and they pay lower insurance premiums.

For a company whose business is food, how and what its workers eat has become a fundamental part of that business, saving money for the company and its employees.

Since starting the incentives program four years ago, Burd says Safeway's health care costs have remained flat, compared to a 40 percent jump for most other companies.

The Safeway cafeteria does not contain your average cafeteria food, and Burd says, "We're in the food business."

Burd applied what he's learned in the food business to the layout of the company cafeteria, strategically placing healthy food at eye level -- considered the premier shelf spot.

An onsite gym further promotes healthy habits.

Eric Ward, a building maintenance manager, says his daily visits have helped him lose 40 pounds and saved him hundreds of dollars in health care premiums.

"You have to have some sort of hook to get someone to consider changing their behavior. Once they start seeing the results, then it starts shifting the behavior, as opposed to you're just going to save a dollar," says Eric Ward, a Safeway employee.

Rewarding healthy choices - an approach Burd is convinced can work for the rest of the nation.

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