Researchers, in close partnership with the center’s community advisory committee, designed a worksite health promotion project—Health Works for Women—to help low-income and minority women in rural North Carolina receive information, guidance, and support to make behavioral changes related to nutrition, physical activity, smoking, and stress. The project was tested at worksites in 4 rural counties where a growing proportion of the population is low-income, African-American, or Hispanic and Latino. In these counties, more than 30% of the workers are employed in manufacturing jobs. About 1,200 female workers at 9 rural factories participated in the project. Lay health advisors were trained to form worksite health promotion support networks and educate their peers about reducing their health risk behaviors. Employee wellness committees were established at each factory that sponsored healthy workplace and community health promotion activities such as health screenings, health fairs, and walking groups. A spin-off program, Health Works in the Community, was conducted at another 15 rural worksites, many of which employ a large number of Latina women.
Researchers evaluated the intervention’s effects on participants, their worksites, and their communities. Analysis of surveys completed 18 months after the start of the intervention showed significant increases in the amount of fruits and vegetables the women ate and in their participation in exercises to improve strength and flexibility, compared to non-intervention residents. Researchers are evaluating survey results on the effects of the program on the worksites and communities, and also examining the relationship between creating social networks and improving health behaviors.
When Hurricane Floyd hit the area in September, 1999, a sister project—Health Works After the Flood—was quickly put in place, building on relationships and resources established in the Health Works projects. Stress and domestic violence, potentially aggravated by the disaster, were among the health issues addressed. Other outcomes of the Health Works projects include increased capacity among community partners to conduct health promotion programs for community residents, enhanced emergency preparedness at a local domestic violence agency, implementation of Women’s Empowerment Days (which included job training and health promotion), and female employees at one worksite being allowed to attend college classes or job training during work hours.