BeWell Spreads Wellness Fever Across Campus

“Wellness” fever isn’t limited to the Stanford undergraduate population. It is endemic to the whole campus, not just a room in Old Union. Stanford’s BeWell program, now in its fourth year, offers support and financial incentives for Stanford University employees and students to develop healthy lifestyles.

While the program mainly targets employees, a separate student program was introduced in spring 2010 and was renewed for the 2010-2011 school year. Students who complete a self-assessment receive a gift certificate for a smoothie at Jamba Juice.

The program also sponsors three annual drawings for prizes, including tickets to Big Game, free personal training sessions, and a Wii Fit package. To be eligible to win, students must record their participation in certain wellness activities, such as enrolling in a fitness class, accompanying Stanford campus police on a ride-along, attending wellness presentations, and self-reporting a “well-rounded lifestyle decision” that they made.

Not surprisingly, employees have even better incentives. Completing a self assessment earns them $200. They can earn another $100 total by completing five other wellness activities, such as attending classes on nutrition or stress, participating in a fitness or walking program, or scheduling an annual physical exam.

Additionally, every employee receives two free hours of personal training, a physical fitness assessment, and reduced rates for group fitness classes. Eight hours per year of an employee’s paid sick time may be used as “well time” to participate in these activities during the work day.

Each year, the BeWell program holds two Wellness Fairs, one for employees and one for students. The employee fair, to be held on April 27 this year, has in past years featured nutritionists, Stanford dining chefs, and a blood drive. The student fair, planned for May 3 this year, hosted a dunk tank with ASSU officials and football players, and a reproductive system-themed obstacle course made by the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) in the past.

The differences between the student and employee BeWell programs appear to stem from their different impacts on the University’s bottom line. According to publicly available figures in Stanford’s 2010-2011 Budget Plan, health insurance accounts for 10.4% of an average Stanford employee’s total payroll expense.

Stanford’s total projected cost for health and life insurance will be $157 million this year. Employee absences due to illness also cost Stanford. The employee program is funded by money allocated to fringe benefits for employees and from a partial allocation of $1.1 million in general funds.

Compared to Stanford’s health-related costs, a successful wellness program would be fairly cheap and could yield significant returns by improving the health of employees. At the same time, the perks provided by BeWell can help Stanford attract and retain employees.

For undergraduate students, however, BeWell must share the spotlight with many other wellness initiatives, including the ASSU Wellness Room, Stanford Peace of Mind, The Bridge, Robin Thomas’s *Daily *column, Project Love, SHPRC, and others.

Also, the undergrad program can reap only psychological, not financial, returns, because undergraduates cover most of their own health care costs.

The situation for graduate students is more similar to that of employees. There are no graduate student groups focused exclusively on wellness as there are for undergrads. Furthermore, the University pays for health insurance for all graduate students with Research or Teaching Assistantships of 25% or more, which includes many grad students.

Funding for the student program has come from BeWell itself and from the Campus Health Service Fee assessed on all students.

Last year, roughly half of eligible Stanford employees participated in BeWell. Student awareness of the program, on the other hand, remains low.

To increase awareness, Ali Yahya, a coterminal Master’s student in Computer Science, suggested harnessing people’s intrinsic motivations for exercising rather than offering small financial incentives. “We should use technology to make it easier to chart our progress by lending out the Nike + iPod devices that let you track your running on your phone, or by giving out Polar heartrate monitors that can link up to a Web fitness tracker,” he said.

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