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City employees aim to be Fit by '15

Technology tracking every step they take

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Posted: August 29, 2014 4:23 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2014 9:43 p.m.
City employees aim to  be Fit by '15

Statesboro High School Resource Officer Steve Gravley checks a device which tracks footsteps, mileage, and calories burned as part the city's Fit by '15 program. Gravley says that about 60 of his calories burned are in the course of his job, walking the halls of the school.

     Statesboro city employees, among them desk jockeys and maintenance workers and a cop literally walking a beat, are keeping track of every step they take as part of the city’s Fit By ’15 Health and Wellness Challenge.
    Sixty-three of the city’s more than 300 employees signed up for the pilot program, which began July 1 and extends through December. Each was assigned a Fitbit Zip, a watch-size wireless activity tracker worn at the waist. Monitoring steps, reporting the distance in miles and calculating calories burned, the Fitbit automatically uploads the data via Wi-Fi.
    A dashboard feature, viewable from any Internet device, lets viewers check their numbers and those of selected friends, as well as a city leader board with rankings.
    “It has really motivated me,” said tax clerk Teresa Skinner. “In the afternoons, I’ll be like, ‘Unh-unh, I’m not going to the gym,’ but then I check and see somebody right up behind me and I’m like, ‘Oh, no, no, no! I’ve got to go. They’re going to catch me.”
    As of this week, Skinner, age 47 and nine years a city employee, is the women’s leader and fourth overall, having racked up 720,832 steps in July and August.
In deference to the summer heat, Skinner and her exercise buddy, records clerk Leah Harden, have been walking inside the mall during their lunch break. But Skinner also goes after work to a gym, where Fitbit counts her movements pedaling an exercise bike.
    Meanwhile, Steve Gravley, the Statesboro Police Department resource officer assigned to Statesboro High School, holds the overall lead. By this week, he had trekked 1.2 million steps, or about 600 miles, in less than two months.
    Patrolling the air-conditioned halls of the largest school in the Bulloch County system, sheltered from sun and rain, Gravley has an opportunity advantage over those whose jobs tie them to patrol cars, let alone desks.
    “I don’t have to do all the walking that I do here, but it helps me out,” he said by phone from the school. “It helps me keep track of everything that goes on here.”
    Gravley, 47, also takes a walk from home every day before work and, most days, another walk after. He has been meeting his goal of 10-12 miles per day, total.

Beyond 27 million steps
    Based on the accumulation of more than 27.3 million steps by all 63 employees as of this week and this equaling 13,653 miles according to Fitbit, the system is counting 2,000 steps as a mile.
    Gravley is in close competition with Statesboro Fire Department Inspector Dallas McPhee, who is 57 and in command of second place.
    “I can’t let the old man catch me!” Gravley teased.
    The Fitbit system also lets users send taunts, as well as smiley faces of encouragement, to friends.
    “He’s a faster walker, and I’ve got about 10 years on him,” McPhee said. “If I can get 10 miles in a day, I’m doing good. You know, I do inspections, and so I walk quite a bit, and I try to walk three or four miles in the morning, and then if I get home and don’t have my 10, I get up and walk around the block to make sure.”
    He has also topped the 1 million-step, or approximately 500-mile, mark and has narrowed the gap with Gravley in August.
    Police and firefighters have job-related fitness requirements, but City Hall pencil pushers get as much or more from the program, according to City Purchasing Director Darren Prather.
    “For us, it’s even more important, because when you get off at 5:00 or 5:30, you need a little motivation, because in my case, the big green chair is very inviting when I get home,” he said.
    Prather, 44, slipped out of the top 10 after July but likes to maintain at least 10,000 steps a day. He gets up early and sometimes walks with his son Bryce, 12, but more often with Bryce’s Labrador retriever, Carley, giving her some exercise as well.
    At City Hall, say Skinner and Prather, the Fit By ’15 Challenge has reduced usage of the elevator and increased employee traffic up and down the old Jaeckel Hotel’s three-story staircase.
    Both City Hall-based employees cited some serious weight loss goals.
    Even 12-mile-a-day Gravley said he could lose a little weight, but wasn’t sure how much he had lost already. The Fitbit Zip’s online program also lets users track food consumption, workouts and sleep patterns.

The 'Triple Crown'
    Coordinated by city Human Resources Director Jeff Grant, the Fit By ’15 Challenge isn’t the city’s first effort to keep employees active. Two years ago, the city formed a team for local running and walking events. Last year, an incentive program was added for participation in a “Triple Crown” of 5K walk/runs.
    This year’s series began with the Peanut Run during the Brooklet Peanut Festival, Aug. 16. More than 40 Statesboro City employees turned out, many wearing their “We Run This City” team T-shirts.
    Their other races this fall will be the Turkey Trot in November and Run in the Boro in early December. The incentive is vacation time: four hours for each of the two races, five hours for the third, or a total of 16 hours for completing all three by “run, walk or crawl,” Grant said.
    The city is recognizing weekly and monthly leaders, awarding prizes such as gift certificates to local businesses. Prizes yet to be announced will be awarded at the close of the six-month challenge.
    Improving employee health awareness and building community are the two main purposes, Grant said.

Costs & benefits

    Of course, the city has another reason to wish employees better health: reducing its health insurance program costs.
    “That’s going to be the long-term goal,” Grant said. “That’s why we’re piloting out a group, and then we’ll phase more employees into the program and eventually we would like to tie this program to our health plan and tie some type of incentive to it.”
    After the first six-month challenge, he plans to restart the project in January for another six months, involving more employees. Then city officials will evaluate whether to continue.
    The Fitbit monitors have a price of $59.95 each, and the city’s expense, including shipping and handling, for those used by the pilot group was $3,805.
    “It’s a good investment. I mean, you have a $3-million health plan and you look at $59 for 60 employees,” Grant said. “The return on investment really is huge.”
    All City Council members and Mayor Jan Moore were also signed up. As of mid-August, Mayor Pro Tem Will Britt was in the lead among this group and in 11th place overall.
    “If we have healthy employees, the health care costs of the city go down and we can use that money to repave streets, for other infrastructure needs. So keeping our city employees healthy is fiscally responsible,” said Councilman Phil Boyum, the second-place stepper on the council and 19th overall.

    Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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