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Push Ups in Aisle Seven

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Healthy employees make for happy associates. The message is coming through as more retailers announce wellness programs directed at their workers. What's interesting is the different tactics companies are using.

Safeway has been talking about tying its consumer-centric FoodFlex custom nutrition system to employee health plans; Hannaford Bros. recently began promoting a new health care program that asks associates to take more responsibility for their own wellness and their health benefits.

These programs are tied the healthcare coverage offered by employers. In fact, Safeway CEO Steven Burd has gone on record as saying he'd be willing to consider a reduction in premiums for employees who can demonstrate a healthful lifestyle. Good idea: Premiums for employer-based health insurance rose by 6.1% in 2007, according to an annual survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It also notes that the annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for a health plan covering a family of four averaged $12,100 in 2007; while workers contributed nearly $3,300, or 10% more than they did in 2006.

Other retailers are taking a less formal route, in some cases using current events as a springboard to action. For instance, St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets is sponsoring the chain's 15,000 employees to participate in its "Steps to the Olympics" program, which invites associates to participate in group activites in the weeks leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The program is centered on team-based activities like walking or biking. For the next six weeks, the company will record participants' steps as they walk, jog or bike the theoretical 13.5 million steps separating St. Louis and China's capital. Scott Schnuck, chairman and CEO of the retailer, will act as captain of his family’s walking team.

We have a feeling this is only the beginning. Stay tuned. More companies to come.

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