Reaching a Diverse Audience in Corporate Wellness

Corporate wellness programs teach the employees of large companies about healthy lifestyles, but as a dietetic intern with the corporate wellness program at Johns Hopkins, I learned so much more. In less than two months, and after just my first rotation, I’m already practicing many of the skills a dietitian needs to be successful. Under the guidance of my preceptors, I edited and developed talks on various topics, located educational materials to use, helped run the wellness program booth at health fairs, attended meetings and observed individual counseling sessions. Most importantly, I got to see the unique difficulties dietitians face in this setting, and how experienced professionals handle this type of work.

Corporate wellness programs are a huge business, and field is only expected to grow. They offer work for dietitians that differs from the more commonly cited areas of clinical, community and food service. Initially, many companies offered wellness programs simply to try to avoid rising employee health insurance costs by improving the health and physical well-being of their workers. Over time however, employers began to recognize the importance of providing mental health, stress management and other services as part of their wellness programs, aiming to create a more holistic approach to employee well-being. Because of this, a dietitian working in a wellness program may need to learn about aspects of health that weren’t explicitly covered in their education or training. Backgrounds, education levels and job titles may vary drastically across the employee populations, so wellness dietitians need to know how to serve diverse audiences.

The workforce of a hospital is particularly varied; the wellness program may work with doctors, housekeeping staff, management, office workers and others, all of whom come from different backgrounds and levels of formal education. When giving advice on healthy living habits, dietitians may need to talk with authority on a large variety of topics, not all of which center around nutrition. They also need to tailor their message to their audience. A physician probably doesn’t need to be told what hypertension is, but may still benefit from ideas on how to fit physical activity into their daily routine. An employee without a formal education in health and medicine shouldn’t be expected to already know jargon, so teaching them what HbA1c means might be necessary.

Throughout my assignments and activities, I learned how important it is to be able to use plain language to communicate to the widest audience possible, while still conveying useful and relevant information. In corporate wellness, the goal is to promote healthy behaviors to as many employees as possible. To accomplish that I have learned to tailor my message so it is accessible to a diverse group of employees.

Just take one bite

Note to reader: This is our new blog. Please visit our old blog to read more intern experiences.

By Julia Werth

“The last rule I need each of you to remember before we start our tasting is that no matter what, everyone will take at least one bite of the pear today.”

I looked around the first grade classroom, trying to discern if the message had made sense to the 20 or so 6-year-olds that, unlike me, seemed to be eagerly awaiting their piece of pear.

“That means, even if you think you don’t like pears or fruit at all, you are going to take at least one bite,” I made eye contact with the boy who just minutes before had pronounced, “I don’t like fruit and vegetables.” He nodded.

Good, I thought. You and me both buddy.

Despite a degree in nutritional sciences, a love of apples, grapes, beets and dozens of other fruits and vegetables and the title of dietetic intern, I had yet to come to terms with the pear.

Before the pear tasting, my internship partner and I led the students in a lesson about where their food comes from. Teaching them the steps from the farm to the fork. The lesson we taught is part of a series called ‘Read for Health’. Each lesson incorporates a picture book so the children can more easily understand the message.

As I delivered a pear slice to each child, I did my best not to look at the oddly porous, white flesh of a fruit I had never voluntarily eaten.

“It looks funny,” one of the kids said as I placed a tasting dish in front of her. I wanted to agree, but I stopped myself. I had just told each of these kids that they had to try the pear. I supposedly wanted them to learn to love fruit. I wanted them to choose it as a snack over crackers or cookies. I wanted each one of these first graders, to grow up to be healthy, strong adults. I wanted them to have health eating habits from the start, and not spend their adult lives relearning how to eat. I wanted that even if it meant that in less than a minute I would bite into my least favorite fruit, smile and say “yum.”

In my past two weeks working with the Food Supplement Nutrition Education program I have learned that in order to convince others to change or try something new, you yourself must model that very behavior.

During this time, I ate Tuscan Kale salad in order to help nearly 900 elementary schoolers try it for the first time, and a week later more than 100 bought it for lunch! Additionally, I ate apple coleslaw in 85 degree heat so farmers market shoppers felt brave enough to give it a taste, raw fennel at a food bank where it was available in abundance, two different types of apple slices amidst enthusiastic fourth graders, and (of course) a slice from the smallest pear I’ve ever seen while I watched nearly all of the first graders chow down with a smile on their face.

lunch room tasting
Our station in the cafeteria to introduce 900 elementary schoolers to kale.

“Oh, wow, that’s good”;
“I actually like that”;
“Can I have some more?”
I heard again and again at each event.

Children and adults alike were trying and learning to give fruits and vegetables a chance. They discovered that they could be yummy, and even better than that, they could keep them healthy.

But what about me? Could I learn that lesson? Would I be able to not only choke down a bite of pear and slice of fennel, but could I really learn to give once disliked or less common fruits and veggies a chance? I don’t want to speak too soon, but I will say that I didn’t just take one bite of pear.