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Fitness Program Is Off and Running in L.B. School District

January 10, 1988|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — In the offices of the Long Beach Unified School District, running shoes have begun appearing under desks.

Instead of lingering over second cups of coffee, some district employees now walk briskly through downtown Long Beach during their lunch hour.

Support groups have sprung up at several schools for teachers, cafeteria workers and other staff members who are trying to lose weight. At one school, employees regularly meet before classes for an early morning run. The pool at Polytechnic High School has been made available three times a week to staffers who want to swim laps.

The districtwide interest in fitness is no accident.

Long Beach Unified began offering its employees a personalized fitness program as part of the district's benefit package for this school year. Following the example of private industry, where fitness and health programs are an increasingly popular "perk," the school district has budgeted $200,000 this year (including much of its California Lottery money) for a "wellness" program for its 4,500 employees.

Children Benefit, Too

"We want the maximum performance from every employee, and a fit employee is a far more productive employee than one with health problems," Assistant Supt. of Schools Helen Z. Hansen said. According to Hansen, the district believes that the children in the schools will ultimately benefit from the increased health and fitness of the staff. "That's the bottom line," she said.

The ABC Unified School District in Cerritos has had a fitness and health program for its staff, including a fitness center at Carmenita Junior High School, since the 1984-85 school year. According to coordinator Pam Graham, "the whole premise of our program is that if employees become healthier, eventually that will filter down to the children." Graham said that the ABC district had not yet been able to determine whether the program has paid off in terms of reduced absenteeism, for example. But she said she believes it has enhanced job satisfaction among district employees.

Las Virgenes Unified School District in Westlake Village had a pilot fitness program last year. According to Donald Zimring, the district's assistant superintendent for business, the fitness program was very popular, but employees opted for a salary increase rather than continued funding of the program.

In Long Beach, almost 1,500 employees will have participated in the program by the end of the school year. Alison E. Vieri, the district's personnel physician, said employees actually have a choice of two programs, one administered by Fitness Appraisal Inc. of San Diego and one run by John Gregory Smith, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Long Beach City College.

First Step

In both programs, employees begin by having a blood sample drawn and analyzed for cholesterol levels and other factors.

Participants being tested by Fitness Appraisal pay $20 to cover laboratory costs, the only fee they pay. The program costs the district about $150 a person. (Fitness Appraisal has worked with the majority of staff members, according to Vieri.) Participants also keep track of what they eat and drink over three days so their eating habits can be evaluated.

The next step is a personalized fitness appraisal conducted at the employee's school or office. It takes about an hour. The evaluation, which is done by exercise physiologists, includes an estimate of how much body fat an individual has and tests of the individual's blood pressure, heart rate and heart rhythm while he or she is pedaling a stationary bicycle.

The participant is given a computer printout comparing his or her weight, diet and performance on various tests to ideal standards.

On the basis of the individual's results, the evaluators make specific recommendations about altering diet and exercise habits. Recommendations for exercise take into account the activities that the individual has indicated he or she likes. Jogging is not recommended for people who would rather swim. Age and health are taken into consideration, and more regular, less intense exercise is recommended for participants who are arthritic or obese, for example.

College Makes No Profit

In Smith's program at Long Beach City College there is no charge for the initial blood test. Smith said this is possible because the City College program makes no profit and costs the district only about $95 per person. The college-based program includes somewhat different tests, including a computerized analysis of the health implications of an individual's diet, exercise and other aspects of his or her life style.

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