Oklahoma State University is actively committed to the wellness of its students, employees, communities and our state. We have worked hard to become America's healthiest campus and today believe we have achieved that status.

What allows us to make such a claim? I'm glad you asked!

I have the good fortune of being the chief wellness officer at OSU, the first fully dedicated such position among U.S. universities. I have the job of making sure people are aware of the great things we are doing. But more importantly, my task is to help the university extend the impact of its wellness work, which can lead to improved lives, increased productivity, reduced costs and many more benefits.

For the most part, we think of wellness as diet, exercise and tobacco use, which all significantly influence the leading causes of death. But wellness is much more than that. In fact, I prefer not to use the words diet and exercise, as these are things we do. Wellness is who we are and how we live, rather than something we must do.

Wellness is different from person to person, and might differ from day to day. It is the harmony and synergy of our physical, emotional, spiritual, social, professional, and financial health. This includes healthy eating and hydration; active living; adequate rest and relaxation; living free of drugs, tobacco, injury and violence; financial readiness; a sense of purpose; sexual health; lifelong learning; mental health and well-being and, of course, social engagement.

Like others, OSU has a strong workplace wellness program that is providing a return on investment (ROI) in decreased medical costs, pharmacy claims and sick days. Nationally, it is estimated that every dollar spent on health promotion returns $3 in savings. At OSU, these savings helped the university hold insurance premium costs steady.

But OSU isn't doing this strictly for the ROI. It is doing it for the VOI, or value on investment. It is doing it because it is the right thing. OSU President Burns Hargis realizes that the value of wellness is the culture of wellness — a place where employees find joy in working; a place where students become healthy and engaged, successful graduates. The results are increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, decreased injuries, more active engagement, strong work-life balance, more pleasure, more joy — essentially a higher quality of life. Who can put a price on such benefits?

Students are a huge part of our culture of wellness. I was thrilled to learn OSU has the most students participating in intramural sports in the Big 12, which is even more impressive when you consider the majority of the conference's members have a larger enrollment. This is not only physical health, but social and emotional health as well, as individuals compete and play on teams.

The ultimate benefit of a focus on wellness is the development of healthy, engaged, successful, productive employees and students, who are and will become healthy, engaged, successful, productive community members. They will lead the charge to raise the health of our state, and of our country today and tomorrow.

Oklahoma State University's wellness reach extends beyond our Stillwater, Tulsa and other campuses to each of Oklahoma's 77 counties through the wide range of services and programs offered by cooperative extension offices.

Through our efforts at OSU, and the great work of countless others across our state, we hope wellness, and all its benefits, comes to define every Oklahoman.


Dr. Suzy Harrington is chief wellness officer at Oklahoma State University. This column is part of the Spend to Save series of the Tulsa World news and editorial departments. The series looks at options for government to save costs over time by investing money up front.

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