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Benefits Are Mutual : School District Trying Fitness Plan

May 30, 1985|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — Bonnie Pool, a 45-year-old secretary for the ABC Unified School District, thought she was healthy when she was actually sick.

Thanks to a health and fitness program started recently for the district's employees, she discovered how sick she was. Pool, who has worked for the district 15-years, said she is now being treated for diabetes and is doing well.

"I was unaware I was sick. I had some problems 10 years ago. There is a history of diabetes in my family, but I felt fine," said Pool.

Pool was one of 150 volunteers who agreed to join a pilot project started by the district in January, which could eventually involve all of its more than 2,000 employees.

The ABC pilot project is aimed at guiding employees to better health, reducing absenteeism and job-related injuries, and saving money for the district. In the 1981-82 and 1982-83 school years, job-related injuries alone cost the district about $450,000, according to district statistics. "We pay substitute teachers $70 a day. We have 1,000 teachers and, in theory, if we cut down one sick day for each teacher, that would be a savings of $70,000," said Kay Martin, program coordinator.

This year's project was financed by the district for $44,000. Next year's funds will come from an $85,000 health education-risk reduction grant from the state Department of Health Services.

150 Volunteer Participants

More than 500 employees applied for the project, and 150 participants were selected at random from among them. The volunteer test group has nine administrators, 72 teachers and 69 classified employees, including clerical and maintenance workers.

All the volunteers were given physical examinations, including blood and stress tests, by Martin and district licensed nurse-practitioners.

"We found that 10% of them had elevated blood pressure, 95% had too much body fat or were overweight, and 40% had elevated cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart attacks," said Martin, who is 35.

Three people, including Pool, were found to be sick enough to need immediate medical attention. One 39-year-old maintenance worker had high blood pressure and another, 51-year-old maintenance worker was suffering from arteriosclerosis, or blockage of the arteries.

They were referred to their own doctors. Since treatment, they are all taking part in the district's health and fitness "wellness" program, in which nutrition and exercise programs are designed for each individual's needs. For instance, it was determined that Pool needed to lose weight and get more exercise.

"I was sitting home watching television and getting no exercise," said Pool, who is now on a 1,200-calorie diet and rides a stationary bicycle 20 minutes every day before work.

"I intend to increase my minutes," said Pool, who says the program has made her feel better and healthier.

Martin says the program is unusual because it is run by district personnel. "Many programs are run by outside consultants. I think it is more effective having it run by the district's own people--however, I can't prove that," he said.

The state Department of Health Services has agreed to support only one other program like it, according to Lelia Folkers, the department's unit chief for the health-education-risk program. She said the other program is in Vallejo Unified School District, in Northern California.

"We are interested in looking at what impact healthy adults, from teachers to bus drivers, can have on students. If adults stop smoking, lose weight, set good role models, what will this do for students? It might take us sometime to find the answer," Folkers said.

Six-Week Checkups

All the volunteers are re-checked every six-weeks to make sure they are following the diets worked out for them by the nurses, and to make sure there are no complications.

"This is a gradual program. We are asking people to slowly make life--style changes through careful exercising and dieting," said Martin, who has a degree in physical education from Cal State Long Beach.

"There are no crash diets. Everything is carefully worked out," said Martin, who spent a week at the Aerobic Center in Dallas to help prepare for the program. The center's director is Dr. Kenneth Cooper, whom Martin calls "the founding father of aerobics."

Some participants are given exercises that can be performed at home, such as stretching and push-ups, while others prefer going to their health clubs, Martin said.

"We try and keep everything simple. A program can simply require that a person walks every day," said Martin, who runs the project from a small room at Carmenita Junior High School.

Information Effort

Employees at all schools are also being supplied with health information at seminars and lectures, and through a monthly health newsletter.

At the beginning of the next school year in September, 200 more volunteers will join the program's active participants, Martin said.

Someday, Martin said, it is hoped that more district employees will be eating fewer "doughnuts, cakes, cookies and candies" and more healthful foods.

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