The Nordonia Hills Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon is always a relaxed gathering of friendly people, many of whom are in business for themselves, living the American Dream.

But the American Dream is changing, and it's no longer just two-car garages and a chicken in every pot, as it also requires one to answer for one's health and the health of one's employees.

At the Chamber's Jan. 12 luncheon, those in attendance were confronted with a blunt, yet effective presentation by Mark J. Clendenin, an Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation regional business development manager. His presentation was meant to encourage local business leaders to sign up for a grant meant to finance workplace wellness programs at their businesses.

I'm all into wellness, ever since my doctor in November said my blood sugar levels are way over the top and I had to return to a healthy eating and exercise routine. In fact, on arriving at the luncheon, I noticed salad had been placed on all the tables and asked about the main course.

I later waved off the server as she tried to deliver a heaping plate of veal parmigiana and rigatoni.

"That's right, you're the one with the broccoli," she announced.

My ears turned red, and when everyone had been served their delicious meals, my plate of bright green broccoli arrived.

My embarrassment was short-lived, however, when Clendenin brought up his own weight loss, his former success in business and his new gig with BWC, where the agency is recruiting businesses to institute wellness programs.

It's part of a research program, where the agency provides funds for companies to establish wellness programs, then tracks the progress of employees who enroll. The payout is about $300 per worker over a four-year period, but he made a good case for why companies should push for a healthy workforce.

As an anecdotal reference, he referred to one Ohio company that established a wellness program, but had low participation among employees. He said the participation rate changed to 100 percent when one of the initial participants was diagnosed with cancer and survived through treatment.

Clendenin also presented statistics that described a striking increase in obesity and Type II diabetes among Americans, as well as a remarkably large percentage of workers who are injured or suffer illness due to unhealthy lifestyles.

For example, he referred to the case of a man who died in a fall because he decided "just one time" to reach too far while standing on a ladder. Had he been in better physical shape, he may not have suffered the fatal accident.

He also showed some data that outlined the expensive toll poor health has on the compensation system.

Before working for newspapers, I spent a career in the U.S. Army, where one's physical condition is a requirement for employment. Get out of shape, and you're discharged.

As long as employers have an interest in the health of their workers, it seems to me they ought to play an active role. Clendenin said civilian wellness programs cannot be coercive. The study should show the effectiveness of various approaches.

Employers interested in obtaining a grant to develop workplace wellness programs can contact Clendenin at 330-312-4713, or Marc.C.2@bwc.state.oh.us.

Those interested in the Nordonia Hills Chamber of Commerce should see www.nordoniahillschamber.org, or call 330-467-8956.

Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433

emarotta@recordpub.com

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