Encouraging Health for All

Comprehensive employee and student wellness programs are making a difference at WVU.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

During the employee health fair employees can get
blood tests and other simple checkups.

Education is key to both the employee and student wellness programs at 32,300-student West Virginia University.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—Education is key to both the employee and student wellness programs at 32,300-student West Virginia University. Nettie Freshour, R.D., dietitian/program coordinator for WVU Dining Services, says the initiatives for both programs are based on providing as much information to employees and students as possible, in the hope they will make healthy decisions.

Educating employees: Freshour says the program was designed specifically for WVU Dining employees and includes several components such as a yearly health fair, information sessions and what Freshour calls “behavioral change” programs. The department was recently recertified as a Gold Status Well Workplace from the state of West Virginia for its employee wellness efforts.

“A big part of the program is the health fair,” Freshour says. “Any individual on our insurance can attend it for free. Those individuals not on our insurance can also attend for $30. At the health fair our employees can get a complete workup such as a blood/glucose and blood pressure checkup and a BMI check. They can get analysis by a chiropractor and get skin analysis done. They can get a lot of free nutrition and wellness information. So even for those not on our insurance, it’s a good deal.”

Once every three years Freshour digs a little deeper by conducting a health risk appraisal, so the department can understand what conditions the employees are suffering from and what they are concerned about. The appraisal tells Freshour how many of the employees have type 2 diabetes or heart disease. It tells her how many are smoking and things like how many don’t wear seat belts when they drive.

“Based on that appraisal I’m able to create programs that are going to be beneficial to our department,” Freshour says. “I also do a needs and interests assessment. So, for example, maybe the appraisal shows me that a lot of our employees have type 2 diabetes but the needs and interests assessment shows that none of those employees would attend an information session on type 2 diabetes, so I wouldn’t offer that.”

West Virginia University wellness program, stretching bandsFreshour also conducts a cultural audit to get an idea of how the staff perceives the administration’s wellness efforts. The department’s goal is to let the staff know that administration really is interested in their health and wellness. To help convey that feeling, Freshour created a wellness team made up of five employees from all different levels. The team created a mission statement, goals and a 12-month calendar of wellness events.

“Within those 12 months we will try to incorporate nutrition information, physical activity information, self-care, stress management and smoking cessation,” Freshour says. “Since tobacco is pretty predominant in this state we always try to encourage our employees to quit. We encourage activity breaks rather than smoke breaks. A monthly newsletter goes out to all the employees based on those categories.”

The items on the calendar try to focus on behavior change programs, Freshour says. One program offered recently was a stretching program. Employees were given information on the importance of stretching, and the wellness team gave them large rubber bands that they can use to stretch. Another program the department did was “Walk 100 miles in 100 days,” which was in conjunction with the university.

“Basically we just encouraged employees to track their mileage for 100 days and hopefully they’d clock in a mile per a day,” Freshour says. “We also do something called ‘Chug a Jug,’ which is where we gave everyone a water bottle and we encouraged them to drink it and try to fill it up twice before 2 p.m. and twice after 2 p.m. If they could do that then they would be getting the recommended 64 ounces of water in a day. [What we are doing with these programs] is we’re trying to decrease call out times. We’re trying to increase productivity. Plus we want to get [the employees] to understand that it really is beneficial for them. We also add other little incentives, such as if an employee fills out a tobacco affidavit that says they’ve been smoke free for a year, they can get a decrease in their health insurance. We also offer decreases for filling out a living will and attending the health fair.”

Employees also are encouraged to take advantage of all the healthy menu options that are available to the students as part of the student-focused wellness program, Healthy U.

Healthy U: To encourage health and wellness for the university’s student population, Freshour says the department created a nutrition and wellness task force. The task force’s main goal was to offer healthy foods within the dining halls, but the team decided early on that just offering the food wasn’t good enough.

“We wanted to explain to students why [the healthy food] was beneficial for them,” Freshour says. “We decided to design a wellness program that was an educational nutrition program.”

In the dining hall the department uses a stop light system—go, slow and whoa—to indicate which items are healthier. Free nutrition counseling also is available. Each residence hall also has a wellness coordinator who offers wellness programs, to which dining contributes.

“We’ll do things like ‘How to Avoid the Freshman 15’ and ‘How to Eat Well and Study.’ We offer dining hall tours and grocery store tours. We also provide them with a lot of handouts with nutrition information. We use social media to encourage health and wellness. We have a Healthy U Facebook page. We also use Twitter to do something called Tweet Well. If someone does something that is healthy they can tweet it and label it as a Tweet Well. If an individual gets so many Tweet Wells in a month, then they can win prizes.”

In conjunction with the basic Healthy U program, the department works closely with a department on campus called Well WVU, which is part of The Students’ Center of Health. Nutrition has its own section on the Well WVU website where videos, podcasts, an “Ask the Expert” feature and other topics answer nutrition concerns.

“The podcasts are a really cool thing,” Freshour notes. “We have podcasts of how to eat healthy in the dining hall, where we educate the students that just because it’s not labeled as healthy doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. For example, we offer a wheat pizza, but we don’t label it as a healthy item. There is a new podcast every month on Well WVU so we worked with Well WVU to do the dining hall one and one that toured a grocery store. We intend on doing more.”

The department also takes part in a lot of health fairs on campus where it provides healthy food from the dining hall for students to sample. Freshour says the department recently took part in an event called Try It, which encouraged students to try something new.

“The event focused on physical activity as well as nutrition,” Freshour says. “We offered things like turkey burgers, salmon burgers, veggie burgers and sweet potato fries. Once again, all the items we offered are available in our dining hall on a regular basis but maybe the students were a little apprehensive to try them.”

Freshour says the biggest challenge with either wellness program is always getting people to buy in.

“When you have individuals who are kind of set in their ways and have been eating sausage biscuits and gravy for breakfast every morning and hot dogs for lunch it’s tough—especially if they don’t have a doctor breathing down their necks because they aren’t going to the doctor,” she explains. “A lot of times they just don’t want to know; they’d rather ignore the information. We just want them to know that it is beneficial to have that information in the long run.

“I have to say David [Friend, director of dining services] is really the epitome of our wellness program,” she adds. “He would never tell you that, but he decided to really take a personal approach to it and show our staff how unbelievably important it is. He started implementing exercise and diet into his everyday life. He made it a priority and he initially lost 60 pounds. He really is an inspiration to the rest of our department. He definitely leads by example. He has made wellness one of my main responsibilities. That’s definitely one of the reasons we’ve been reaccredited as Gold because our upper management deems[wellness] a priority.”

Freshour says it’s important to get as many people involved in wellness efforts as possible. That way the department can lean on its employees for expertise, she adds.

“You never really know who goes home and rides a bike or goes for a five-mile jog,” Freshour says. “Ask individuals to help out by bringing in their expertise. Also, start small; there’s no reason why you can’t hold one or two events a year to start off. If you are utilizing your department’s resources you can have an effective wellness program and not spend a dime.”

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