Summer 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW3

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Taking Extension to Work


J. Lynne Brown
Assistant Professor of Food Science
Department of Food Science
The Pennsylvania State University-University Park

Dawn Olson
Extension Home Economist and
County Extension Director
Monroe County Extension Service
The Pennsylvania State University-Stroudsburg

Extension nutrition education programs can be effective components of worksite wellness programs. At a personnel officer's request, we offered a set of four learn-at-home lessons on nutrition and health to employees of a local bank. The bank personnel manager had seen an advertisement for the program and thought the topics and delivery method would complement the other parts of the bank-sponsored wellness program.

We offered the employees a free computerized nutrient analysis of the food they'd eaten in a 24-hour period plus four lessons: "Fiber," "Foods and Your Health," "Smart Shopping," and "Weight Control." Each unit included a short set of instructions, pretest, six to ten pages of information on the topic, activity worksheet, posttest, answer sheet, and evaluation form.

The bank's personnel office handled all advertising, registration, distribution, and collection of materials. Initial notices were sent to 200 employees at 12 sites, with registration and food recall forms attached. The personnel office distributed a second advertising notice to all employees two weeks later.

To receive an analysis of their nutrient intake, employees simply had to complete the 24-hour recall form. If their intake of any nutrient was less than 65% of the RDA, the printout suggested foods rich in that nutrient. Employees who wished to receive the lessons returned the registration form and one dollar to cover costs. The bank refunded the dollar to those who completed and returned the pretests and posttests and the evaluation form. In addition, the bank matched the dollar returned, so employees earned a bonus by participating.

The personnel office then sent the lessons one at a time to registered employees. Participants were allowed up to two weeks to complete each, so distribution of the four lessons took about two months. Employees who completed any lesson or the dietary analysis received a summary of the group's nutrient intake data, knowledge gain, and self-reported changes in food choice. Those who completed all four lessons received a certificate.

Ten percent of the bank employees (20 people) participated in the learn-at-home program. Although the lessons were offered during the fall holiday season and a bank merger, the participation rate was similar to that found in the other bank-sponsored wellness programs, which were mainly off-site exercise programs offered by outside agencies.

Eighty percent of those participating completed all four lessons, and 90% completed at least three. More completed at least one of the lessons (n=20) than the dietary analysis (n=12). Eighty-five percent of those completing at least one lesson reported making some positive change in food choices. This program reached a new and younger audience than that reached when the lessons were distributed to the normal Extension audience earlier in the year. The average age of bank employees completing at least one lesson was 34 years, with 85% having had no previous contact with county Extension services. The average age of the Extension audience completing the program earlier was 46 years.

The bank liked this program because it provided employee education with minimal worktime involvement. We found the program easier to run than group meetings and more cost-effective for Extension, since we didn't pay advertising, reproduction, and mailing costs. Learn-at-home lessons are particularly appropriate for companies with field staff or employees who can't leave work stations readily. We plan to explore the market for use of Extension learn-at-home lessons in other worksite wellness programs.