Biggest Loser Winner Starts Aetna's Exercise Initiative For Its Workers

When Aetna urges its employees to eat well and exercise, the company brings in big names to get people excited and motivated.

Last year, celebrity chef Bobby Flay came to Hartford to judge a cooking contest of Aetna workers — giving credit for taste and nutritious value of the prepared dishes. This year, a winner of NBC's television hit The Biggest Loser began Aetna's annual "Get Active" program at offices in Blue Bell, Pa., and Amherst, N.Y.

Get Active is a 16-week, companywide competition in which employees log their performance while trying to meet their fitness goals. They also have access online to healthy recipes and support from the Hartford-based health insurer's virtual wellness center.

Aetna will not said how much it pays to bring in big names like Flay and fourth-season "Biggest Loser"winner Bill Germankos of Lynbrook, on Long Island, N.Y.

Germankos won the television reality show, which involves teams of obese people competing against one another in diet and exercise — praising the "biggest loser," or the team that drops the greatest percentage its members' combined weight. Eventually, the competition results in an individual winner. Germankos dropped 164 pounds during the season he was on the show. He lost 49.1 percent of his body weight, starting at 334 pounds and ending at 170 pounds. He is 5-feet, 8-inches tall.

"I was told by my doctor that I had taken 20 years off my life by being obese," Germankos said. "But my real 'Ah-ha' moment came when I couldn't ride a roller-coaster with my daughter because I was too fat. I realized right then and there, in the middle of the theme park, that I wanted to be around for the important things in life, like walking my daughter down the aisle."

He's not the only one who has lost a staggering amount of weight. Aetna employee Leslee Cook, who works in the Hartford offices, lost 110 pounds in a year. Bruce Froehlich, who works in Windsor, lost 85 pounds.

Aetna had 17,050 employees register for the program across the company, which is about half of its workforce. That includes 2,760 people in Connecticut — 55 percent of the employees in Hartford, Middletown, Norwalk and Windsor offices.

Prizes for people who reach their goals include duffel bags, golf shirts, wind breakers and a grand prize such as an iPad or a digital camera for each member of the most successful team.