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MUSC and mayor launch Charleston Healthy Business Challenge
 Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | January 15, 2015

Sarah Pack

Employees take a break for a yoga class on the MUSC campus in downtown Charleston. 

For some people, nothing is as motivating as a little competition. Knowing someone is just ahead of you or right behind you can make you work a little harder to get or stay ahead.

That’s the idea behind the Charleston Healthy Business Challenge, which kicked off at Charleston City Hall. The Medical University of South Carolina teamed up with Mayor Joe Riley to invite Lowcountry companies to join a year-long contest aimed at improving the health and well-being of employees while reducing the cost of preventable illness and creating a culture of wellness in the workplace.

MUSC Director of Health Promotion Susan Johnson (center) announces the challenge as Mayor Joe Riley (far right) and others listen. 

Susan Johnson, director of MUSC’s Office of Health Promotion, said the reason is simple. “You change things where people work, so it makes the healthier choice the easy choice and makes it harder for them to continue unhealthy behavior.”

She’s seen it work at MUSC, which has increased exercise options for employees, started offering healthier food and drink options and banned smoking on campus. The state hospital association awarded MUSC the Working Well Excellence Award for its efforts. “It was always our intention that once we figured out how to do it with our employees, we wanted to become a resource for the community,” Johnson said.

The first pillar is a physically active workplace. 

The challenge will grade Lowcountry businesses based on their scores at the end of 2015. It focuses on four pillars:

  • A physically active workplace
  • A healthy food environment
  • A tobacco-free environment
  • Stress management

Johnson joined Riley and presenting sponsors Arthur J. Gallagher & Company and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina at the campaign kickoff. Other leaders and sponsors were on hand as well.

The second pillar calls for a healthy food environment. 

Riley, a trim, energetic 71-year-old, is known for his focus on fitness in the Lowcountry. “We’ve worked hard in Charleston to be a leader in our country in everything we do,” Riley said. “When you [join the challenge], you not only help people lose weight. You’re extending lives. You’re going to give a grandchild a grandparent they might not have had.” 

Research shows that increased physical activity can extend your life expectancy by almost five years, while being extremely overweight can shorten your life by more than a decade.

Riley said the workplace is a smart spot to target for health improvement since we spend so much time there. The U.S. Labor Department estimates the average person spends more than eight and a half hours a day working. “We challenge for-profit businesses and non-profits to join this wonderful program,” Riley said.

Pillars three and four are a tobacco-free workplace and stress management. 

Participation in the challenge is free and open to all businesses in the tri-county area. Registration begins January 30, 2015. Organizers plan for this to be an competitive event for years to come.

To sign up, go to Businesses will have access to:

A toolkit to help them create a culture of wellness

A Healthy Business Challenge scorecard

A calendar of the quarterly seminars hosted by the MUSC Office of Health Promotion and Lighten Up Charleston focusing on the four pillars (exercise, nutrition, tobacco cessation and stress management)

There are also plans to create a handbook for everyone who registers for the challenge and for readers of the Charleston Regional Business Journal, the campaign’s media partner.       

Johnson said a similar program in Nashville, Tennessee, a model for this contest, has been a big success. A list of recent winners there shows the caliber of businesses involved: a university, financial and consulting firms, a media company and a large non-profit operation. 

Johnson hopes to take the campaign statewide in South Carolina.

“I think we’re really on to something,” Johnson said. “This is about changing people’s behaviors. We’ve created a healthier place at MUSC. Now we want to create healthier workplaces across the Lowcountry.”

She calls the new campaign exciting. “We are changing the norm of the workplace environment to one that supports a culture of wellness as the new standard operating procedure.”




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Resources >>

Charleston Healthy Business Challenge

MUSC Wellness Center

MUSC Office of Health Promotion

Lighten Up Charleston

MUSC News Center archives


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