Being a good neighbor has wellness benefits

Improving our community improves our health

Some do it by sponsoring health fairs, others by supporting community events. Still others build Habitat for Humanity houses. But however they do it, wellness departments around the country are becoming partners with their communities.

Large corporations have for years seen the benefits of being good corporate citizens. But what has it got to do with wellness?

It has everything to do with wellness, asserts Karen Carrier, MEd, head of Houston-based Human Solutions, a wellness consulting firm. "When you look at the newest, holistic wellness thinking, one of the key considerations is the interconnectedness of all phenomena in the universe," she notes. "We no longer look at people only from the point of view of their cholesterol levels, or their weight, but also in terms of problems that have to do with how they interact with all the systems they live in - their family, their organization, their community, the nation they live in."

Even the state of the human race affects our wellness, she insists - for example, we are affected by the amount of violence in our society. "This is all part of a real shift in wellness thinking from the biomedical model to an holistic one. Certainly, anyone living in an area like Bosnia or Russia, can clearly see that what happens in a community dramatically affects our health; on different levels, we are all similarly affected."

A feeling of connectedness

One important wellness consideration is the effect of connectedness on our health, adds Carrier. "New data show a very profound connection between isolation and illness," she notes. "Community programs help people develop connection through participating in a project larger than themselves." (For more about interconnectedness see the related story above.)

Joan Cantwell, COHNS, MA, manager of employee health and wellness programs for Chicago-based Quaker Oats Co., agrees. Her company's product, Gatorade, is widely used at the annual Chicago Marathon, and Quaker Oats sets up a table to pass out drinks to passing runners. "The benefits are twofold," she explains. "It's good because it supports health promotion; our products alone stand for health and wellness, and we can support Gatorade without being a walking commercial. In addition, a community camaraderie comes out of the participation. It's inspiring to see all of these people from all over the world running past you."

It also helps spread the wellness "word" beyond the immediate worksite, adds Cantwell. "It's part of our corporate mission at Quaker Oats to fuel a healthier consumer," she explains. "If, for some reason, our employees don't get that message in the worksite they can see what the company is doing to promote a healthy community. It helps them feel connected to place they work in."

Quaker Oats also organizes a team to participate in the annual March of Dimes "Walk for Someone You Love." This, she says, can boost the self-esteem of participants. "It shows what they can do at a basic level," she explains. "By walking, they are earning money towards a good cause; they become part of something bigger than themselves."

In the Quaker Oats worksite wellness program, Cantwell then reinforces the connection. "We offer the March of Dimes `Babies and You' seminars, once again teaching the importance of healthy pregnancies, prenatal care, and the need for research."

The industry as a whole has become involved in the partnering movement, says Carrier. "A lot of our [wellness] conferences now sponsor Habitat for Humanity programs; they take time off to participate in projects in the city that sponsors the conference," she notes. "I also know of individual companies that participate in Earth Day projects, renovating parks, and of course you have your charity-type walks and runs." Carrier recalls that when she was wellness director at Conoco, the company was a sponsor in the local 10K Rodeo Run, which donates money to students who can't afford go to college. The company continues that involvement.

Companies that partner with their communities, she says, are healthier companies. "You definitely see fewer stress-related problems, and your overall mortality rates are lower," she concludes.

[Editor's Note: For more information, contact: Karen Carrier, Human Solutions Inc., P.O. Box 841436, Houston, TX 77284-1436. Telephone: (281) 345-8692. Fax: (281) 550-5578.]