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Workplace wellness summit to come on heels of poor regional health rankings

The second annual Corporate Wellness Summit will take place at KeyBank Center next week, on the heels of two national reports that ranked Western New York poorly in terms of health and well-being.

“It will take everyone working together to turn these figures around and touchpoints at every turn.  We know we have the knowledge and talent in the region to do so,” said Marc Natale, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara affiliate of the American Heart Association.

The association will host the event from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Lexus Club at the arena, One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza. The cost is $50; learn more and register here.

Heart Association leaders decided to offer a wellness summit last year, and continue one as an annual event, because “there wasn’t any organized mechanism that brought companies of all sizes together to talk about and exchange ideas around an effective approach to worksite wellness,” Natale said. “We felt that it was right within our wheelhouse since it meshes well with the prevention emphasis of our 2020 Impact Goal – To improve the health of all Western New Yorkers by 20 percent by the year 2020 – combined with one of our guiding principles of meeting people where they are.

The summit will unfold a week after the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that half of the region’s eight counties rank in the bottom six of the 62 counties in New York State when it comes to length and quality of life, and a Gallup-Sharecare survey showed that Buffalo-Niagara ranks 151 out of 186 U.S. metro regions in terms of health and well-being.

“So much of our waking hours are spent at work that programs within the workplace provide an excellent platform to receiving messages of health,” Natale said. “Employers also recognize that their employees are their greatest asset. Healthier employees are happier, more productive and workplace wellness has been shown to improve retention.”

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Natale recommended that human resources, benefits and wellness coordinators attend the summit, along with others whose roles in the workplace touch on wellness. The summit is designed to update attendees on workplace wellness trends and strategies, including those that can be set up quickly.

Successful program managers understand that the “human factor is complicated,” Natale said, “but they set out a long-term game plan that begins with mission and core values, defines what effectiveness means to them, adds in feedback loops and cycles in improvement over time.”

Wellness programs should help workers quit smoking, eat healthier, exercise more and lose weight, he said.

"But if you look at the rankings, you see that there are various data sets that make up the scoring that are much more complex," Natale said. "Longevity rates have a lot to do with lifestyle behaviors, but have a direct correlation with what are called 'social determinants of health, such as deepening socioeconomic issues within our geographic area, access, transportation, education, crime, housing, etc."

The association is working with schools, health clinics, workplaces, churches and state government to help build better health and wellness across the life cycle. Together, he said, those looking to make an impact can "lean on each other’s strategic strengths and reach throughout the population of Western New York."

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