Norwalk Hospital has been certified by the American Heart Association as a "Fit Friendly Company" and was awarded Gold-Level Recognition. This honor is given to companies that promote a wellness culture among their employees by offering physical activity support and increasing healthy eating options, according to Frank Careccia, a Partner at KPMG in Stamford and Chairman of the American Heart Association's Fairfield County Board of Directors. He congratulated Norwalk Hospital's management team, adding that, "the American Heart Association recognizes employers who go above and beyond when it comes to their employees' health.

"We want to reward Norwalk Hospital for its progressive leadership and highlight the hospital's concern for its staff. We hope that more companies will promote worksite wellness because these programs do more than simply improve employee health. They can also go a long way in helping to improve a company's bottom line," he said.

According to the American Heart Association, American adults spend most of their time at work, often in sedentary office environments. The Journal of the American Heart Association reports that worksite wellness programs prevent the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Studies show that physical activity programs at the worksite can increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, decrease healthcare costs and encourage employees to live longer, stronger and healthier lives.

Norwalk Hospital was commended for having a smoke-free campus and for supporting and promoting the "Nor-walker's Program" from the Norwalk Healthy Lifestyles Cardiovascular Project with mapped out walking routes in the City of Norwalk to encourage people to incorporate exercise in their daily lives.

The hospital was also praised for its high participation rate in annual benefit walks, including the Start! Heart Walk, the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk, among others. In addition, the hospital has a high membership rate in its fitness gym located on the main campus for employees. Indoor walking in the hospital is encouraged through two structured programs, the "Walking Tour" and the "Stairway to Health".

Employees also have the opportunity to participate in the hospital's competitive sports teams. Promoting exercise, while fostering teamwork and a competitive spirit, helped the hospital's basketball team to win the 2009 Norwalk Recreational League Championship. In addition to exercise, healthy eating is another important component for the American Heart Association's Gold Award. Norwalk Hospital was commended for offering employees healthcare spending dollars that can be used for weight loss programs prescribed for reasons of health, such as it's very successful Transformation classes offered through the Nutrition Services Department for employees and the general public. This eight-week program includes discussion of lifestyle, nutrition, behavior modification techniques, exercise, cooking techniques and advice for dining out. Each participant is closely monitored through weekly food diaries and weigh-ins. Nutrition "mini sessions" are also offered with a registered dietitian, which can be followed up by more extensive sessions if needed.

The hospital employee cafeteria is also "Fit Friendly," offering weight watcher items, water and decaffeinated beverages and a large salad bar positioned in the center of the food court. Thirty-three percent of the vending items in the hospital have a red circle indicating a healthier alternative, i.e., low in saturated fat, trans fat free and not heavily sugared or salted. Furthermore, according to Peter McKnight, administrative manager of Nutrition Services at Norwalk Hospital, "the mark-up is higher for burgers and similar items than it is for salads and Weight Watchers items to encourage purchase of healthy food and beverages." In addition, he said that nutrition information is displayed on food selections regarding calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium.

"We are committed to the health and well being of our employees and are honored to receive this important recognition from the American Heart Association acknowledging that we are promoting a culture of physical activity and healthy living for our employees," said Anthony Aceto, vice president of human resources for Norwalk Hospital.