San Antonio is currently the 14th fattest city in the United States, according to a recent study by WalletHub. This represents a substantial improvement, considering that San Antonio ranked second in 2014.

The study compared 100 of the most populous U.S. metro areas across 17 key indicators of weight-related problems.

San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Rad Weaver believes that local businesses have a hand in improving the overall health of the city, so he has declared wellness in the workplace to be one of his top priorities. The Wellness Connection at the Chamber is a new initiative aimed at educating businesses on how to create healthier workplaces by providing resources that encourage better employee health.

The initiative is a first for the city and an effort toward the overall goal of “getting San Antonio off the damn list” of fattest cities in the U.S., Weaver said.

“Health care and biosciences is [San Antonio’s] single largest industry,” Weaver said, noting that one in six residents work in that job sector. “We understand health care as a business, but the perception of San Antonio as an unhealthy city is bad for business.”

For its wellness initiative, the Chamber has partnered with the American Heart Association, which will provide local businesses with resources such as Workplace Health Solutions, an online platform that allows companies to analyze the effectiveness of their existing wellness plans. It also provides education and tools aimed at engaging employees and encouraging them to improve their health.

San Antonio is the flagship city for the American Heart Association’s workplace health solutions program. If successful, the organization plans to roll out the program nationwide.

Jennifer Meachum, the American Heart Association’s senior community health director, told the Rivard Report that this initiative is unique because of its specific focus on improving cardiovascular health.

“The reason why that is important is because heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America,” Meachum said. A healthy heart is associated with lower risk for disease and stroke. Additional benefits include reduced risk of cancer and cognitive decline, as well as improvements in quality of life, mental health, and productivity.

Companies may enroll to participate in a workplace health index, which measures comprehensive health in seven categories using aggregate employee data from the My Life Check, an online digital health assessment that provides an overall “heart health score.” Based on their score, employees are then directed to resources that help them improve that score.

Weaver, 42, said the health initiative has personal meaning to him because his father died at age 50. His dad was a “seemingly healthy, young guy [who was] educated and smart,” he said.

“Nicotine was the cause of his death,” Weaver said, adding that if his father had been more educated about the dangers of smoking or had been given the option of tobacco or a lifetime with his family, “it would have been an easy choice.”

“Our City Council has done a terrific job creating parks, creating an environment where people can exercise, be outside, and be active,” Weaver said. “Now it’s time that we as citizens take the initiative ourselves and do something.”

The Chamber’s role will be to help with awareness and education and provide tools for people and businesses to work toward improving health, Weaver said.

On Monday, Sept. 25, the Chamber will host an information session for businesses interested in building and maintaining a workplace wellness plan. During the session, the American Heart Association, Humana, and Baptist Healthy Solutions will share best practices on managing wellness and health in a business environment.

The event will take place at the Northside Business Center and is free and open to the public. To register, click here.

The Business Civic Leadership Center with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a health and wellness initiative that has been working to help companies nationally to address health and wellness issues in both the workplace and the community.

Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that worker productivity lost to diabetes, depression, poor cardiovascular health, and other chronic and preventable illnesses is estimated to reach $1.1 trillion annually in the U.S., and that implementing wellness programs provide a strong return on investment for employers and employees alike.

“Wellness affects everybody – small businesses [and] large businesses,” Weaver said. “We hope to be a resource for those who do not have resources. We want to open this up to the entire city of San Antonio.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Rivard Report that the Chamber’s initiative is asking businesses to challenge their own employees to adopt wellness and prevention strategies.

Nirenberg noted that 15% of San Antonio high school students are obese and 14% are overweight. For adults in San Antonio, 35% are obese and 35% overweight. He said that “while the numbers are staggering, there are positive things also,” and that San Antonio needs to consistently focus on improving its residents’ health.

“We are challenging businesses to make [health initiatives] part of their operations,” Nirenberg said. “It’s good for productivity, it’s good for the bottom line, and it’s better for overall community health, which benefits the entire city.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.