‘Healthier Statehouse’ means lawmakers, lobbyists and staff shed almost 100 pounds

The South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

With a successful first year under their noticeably tighter belts, members of the South Carolina Legislature are hoping to expand their “Healthier Statehouse” initiative to state capitols across the country.

The S.C. Hospital Association this year partnered with the Fitbit activity tracking company to help lawmakers — and other working Statehouse staffers — learn to make healthier food choices while encouraging them to be physically active.

Starting with an initial enrollment of almost 200 lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members, the 57 participants who screened-out at the end of the session lost a combined 98 pounds.

That was a feat, as avoiding weight gain is difficult for just about everyone during the legislative session, said Easley Republican Rep. Neal Collins.

“In orientation, they said ‘Get ready to gain and lose 10 pounds each year,’ ” said Collins, who just finished his first two-year term in the House of Representatives.

“And I did my first year. This year, going in, I said I was not going to gain the weight. As busy as we are, the very fact that some people were able to maintain (weight), that was a huge success.”

Rozalynn Goodwin, vice president for engagement with the hospital association and who also serves as a lobbyist, said it was important to change the culture in the Statehouse.

“I’m very familiar with the environment,” she said. “It’s not easy for the legislators and legislative staff to make healthy choices. They have long hours — unpredictable hours — they’re sitting in meetings, and the food that’s made available is not the best.”

Goodwin said advocates worked to educate not only the participants but other organizations who provide legislative luncheons and dinners to include healthy food options on their menu.

“We suggested they provide choices so people don’t just have barbecue, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding every time,” she said.

The association also joined with the YMCA to offer fitness classes a few times a week at the Statehouse.

Goodwin has plans to expand the program next year, putting up walking trails on Statehouse grounds to help people keep track of how far they’ve walked and to offer healthy cooking classes.

Collins said the campaign created a healthy competition among lawmakers, who would challenge each other to be active through Fitbit.

He said he’s already had initial talks with lawmakers in other states about getting involved. He envisions statehouses getting together and challenging each other in the future.

“You could have ‘Team South Carolina’ versus ‘Team Alabama,’ for example,” Collins said. “There’s potential for it to be a fun experience. With legislators you’re dealing with competitive, Type A personalities. And once you get everyone on board, there’s going to be some friendly competition.”

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.