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State employees, teachers eligible for weight program

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By Jenni Vincent
Journal Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG - Slowly but surely is the way Penny Price describes how her body is changing since she first began taking advantage of a weight management program offered at The Wellness Center - a cooperative effort that's done in conjunction with the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency.

After a few months, Price has lost about 20 pounds and also sees a difference in how she feels.

While exercise is an important part of the program, Price also values the staff who've helped her through the process, which includes periodic fitness assessments, ongoing work with a personal trainer as well as a registered dietitian.

Another selling point is its minimal cost, because the PEIA Weight Management Program is open to qualifying state employees, including teachers, for a $20 monthly copay, said Dana DeJarnett, a health promotions specialist who works closely with it.

"This is a reduced rate from what we regularly charge and you also get a lot more service, because PEIA is picking up the tab for a lot of the services," she said, adding that participants can be in the program for up to two years.

To qualify, individuals must have PEIA Preferred Provider Plan coverage, DeJarnett said, adding that information about the program is widely distributed to as many state employees as possible - including materials being sent to new teachers as they begin to work with Berkeley County Schools.

Since many people tend to be health conscious with the beginning of a new year, DeJarnett said another effort is now being made to let state employees know about their eligibility.

For example, a brochure was presented earlier this month to wellness coaches at various Berkeley County schools so that can be shared with other educators.

"A large part of the program's goal is to help people lose weight, because that also has a positive impact on your health, such as lowering the risk for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. As a result, potential participants must also have a body mass index of 25 or greater - as well as a willingness to make some lifestyle changes - to qualify for the program," she said.

The 38 individuals currently enrolled in this program have lost a total of 292 pounds, DeJarnett said.

"You start whenever PEIA approves you, so it's not like you have to wait till a certain time or for a group to form. So some of the current folks just started in January, while others may have been in it for almost two years," she said.

Registered dietitian Joan Starliper said she enjoys helping program participants learn more about healthy living.

"For one thing, I teach them how to eat correctly - what the body wants as far as food, such as lean protein and some carbohydrates which help provide energy. People also need a little fat, but only a minimal amount of treats," she said.

"I also remind them that the body wants water as the main beverage. Reminding them of these basics is important because if you don't give the body what it needs, it gives you body fat and disease," Starliper said.

Interested individuals may enroll by calling 866-688-7493 or online at www.peia.wv.gov (then click on the link for health and wellness programs and weight management).