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County gets feedback on wellness issues

Did you know 18 percent of county workers surveyed said they would try to quit if the county adopted a tobacco-free grounds policy and 31 percent said they would try to use less tobacco during the workday.

Did you know that nearly half of Douglas County employees live within walking or biking distance to their worksites?

And did you know that very few have ever walked or biked to work?

Douglas County Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs, along with two public health educators, Crystal Hoepner and Amy Reineke, presented results from a wellness survey that was provided to 350 Douglas County employees. They presented the information at last week's Douglas County Board meeting.

The survey, which was not mandatory, included questions about tobacco use, exercise and nutrition. Employees were given the option of filling the survey out on paper or electronically.

Previously, Reineke explained to commissioners that the survey wasn't about adding policies; it was about finding out where county employees stand on these types of issues.

She also noted that the survey is part of a groundbreaking program called the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

Reineke said SHIP is an integral part of Minnesota's health care reform initiative passed by the Minnesota State Legislature. Its goal is to help Minnesotans live longer, better, healthier lives by preventing the chronic disease risk factors of physical inactivity, poor nutrition and tobacco use and exposure.

The survey touched on four different topics - active living, distracted driving, tobacco use and worksite wellness.

"Out of 350 employees, we had 204 responses," Hoepner told commissioners. "That's an outstanding number."

Here's a look at some of the key findings from the survey:

Active living

Of the 204 employees who responded to the survey, 58 percent live within walking or biking distance to their worksite, yet only 8 percent reported they have walked or biked to work in the last year. Ten miles is considered a bikeable commute.

The most common barriers to walking or biking to work included distance, time, before or after work activities, convenience or need to pick up children.

Distracted driving

Although Douglas County employees are less likely to use a cell phone while driving for work compared to using a cell phone while driving at other times, 28 percent of county employees reported using a cell phone while driving on county business time.

Hoepner noted that there is a current cell phone policy in place that prohibits cell phone use in company vehicles, but there is not a policy that prohibits cell phone use in an employee's vehicle on company time. This is something the county will be looking at.

In the survey, employees rated talking on a cell phone while driving, along with reading while driving, as a very serious threat to their safety. Even those who admitted to driving while being distracted acknowledged the fact that they were putting themselves in danger.

Hoepner noted that driver distraction is involved in 80 percent of crashes and that the number one distraction while driving is cell phone use, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Of the employees who indicated they smoke during the workday, 18 percent said they would try to quit if the county adopted a tobacco-free grounds policy and 31 percent said they would try to use less tobacco during the workday.

And of the 205 responses, 62 percent indicated that they support a Douglas County tobacco-free campus policy, 21 percent were neutral and 17 percent were in opposition of such a policy.

Worksite wellness

The majority of employees who responded to the survey are interested in having healthier food choices at meetings and conferences, and providing facilities, such as bike racks, that promote physical activity.

Reineke noted that there is no intent to take away or eliminate non-healthy choices, but instead, the intent is to add healthier choices, such as fruits or vegetables.

Reineke reiterated to the commissioners that the response rate to the survey was great.

"We need to celebrate that," she told them.

Hoepner said there will be continual communication and discussion on these topics and that public health will continue to provide education and resources for employees to make healthier choices.

Tubbs said, "We support people's choices to be healthy and we want policies to support people's decisions. You will see policy recommendations in the future."