- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

BALDWIN, Ga. (AP) — In the early 1990s, Fieldale Farms had a troubling problem: Employee heart attacks, at an average cost of $50,000 each, were making insurance unaffordable for the small chicken processing company.

“At the time, the average worker was 45 years old,” said Denise Ivester, Fieldale’s human resources manager. “I said, ‘This is from gravy and biscuits in the South.’”

Workers didn’t get regular exercise and preferred deep-fried Southern delicacies over fruits and vegetables.

But the company went on a campaign to make its 4,600 employees healthier. It paid for gym memberships and offered free health screenings, nutritional counseling and educational sessions about heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.

Since Fieldale Farms started its wellness program in 1992, its cost for health insurance has grown at an average annual rate of 2.5 percent, far below the national average of 12 percent. The company health insurance plan spends less than $3,000 a year per employee, compared with the national average of $5,800.

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