I’m lucky. Or at least I consider myself lucky. I have help with the small tasks in life that I don’t always want to do. For me that task is grocery shopping. In my household, I get lots of help when it comes to the grocery shopping. That is a good thing, since I’d rather do 100 other things than grocery shop. But it also has its drawbacks. As a result of someone else doing the shopping, all sorts of foods end up in the refrigerator and cabinets that I would not normally buy (think: chips, hot dogs, salami, pickles, ice cream). And even though I wouldn’t buy them, once they appear within arm’s reach, it is tempting to eat these things. Well, maybe not the hot dogs!

Without realizing it, our families, friends and others we interact with regularly have significant impact on our health behaviors. The way our families come together, the way we talk together as family and friends about our health choices and they way we support and encourage each other, all work to influence our health behaviors.

In my recently published article “Family Wellness: The Power Is in Being Healthy Together” in the American Journal of Health Promotion, these key points address the impact of how we can work together as families to be healthy together:

  • A sense of community. Some family members may have grown apart. Where this is the case, wellness could be a mechanism for getting reacquainted. Wellness initiatives could be organized in such a way that family members have opportunities to help one another. While family members may not share the same lifestyle goals, they can be an important source of mutual support.
  • A shared vision. Many families could benefit from a sense of broader meaning and purpose. Health and wellExtended Family Group In Parkbeing could be that purpose. A family might be inspired by the aspirations of individual family members to, for example, be a competitive athlete, recover from an illness, or do well in school. The high costs associated with medical care and lost work may make wellness an economic necessity within the family system. Other inspirational family goals are likely to have a lifestyle component. For example, the family might join together to promote peace, social justice, or a healthier planet.
  • A positive outlook. A family wellness initiative could be the catalyst for a “can do” philosophy within a family. An emphasis on achieving wellness goals makes it possible to better appreciate achievements. In addition, wellness activities offer ready opportunities for families to enjoy time together.

A family does not necessarily mean the traditional nuclear family of our past. Your family may be the people you live with, your team at work, or a group of people with whom you regularly socialize.

Bring your family together and be well.



When employers develop work-site health promotion programs they often begin with healthy eating or physical activity campaigns.  While exercise and eating right will always be standard programs, organizations forget to promote current benefits. These benefits can have an impact on their employee population’s health; specifically, dental benefits.  There is a proven connection between oral health and medical cost savings.

After analyzing five years of health claims, a 2008 study by the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan showed that for people with diabetes, getting regular periodontal services can lower overall medical and pharmacy costs by more than 10% and Diabetes-related medical costs could be lowered by as much as 19%.

Other studies have indicated a person with periodontal disease is up to four times more likely to develop heart disease and have twice the prevalence for diabetes than those without periodontal disease. Pregnant women with periodontal disease are at an increased risk for preterm births and low birth weight babies.

So in addition to starting new programs, consider promoting current benefits. Most dental problems do not become painful or visible until they are highly advanced.  At that point treatment can be time consuming and expensive. In comparison, the cost of basic oral hygiene is low.  It benefits all to encourage employees to have regular preventative visits to keep problems at bay.

Consider these options to encourage dental visits.

  • Advertise your dental benefits. 
  • Educate your employees about the link between oral health and other health issues.
  • Bring dentists on site.
  • Award a new electric toothbrush to employees who get their annual check up.
  • Promoting your existing dental benefits is a low cost, easy campaign, which can result in measurable results.




We’ve all heard of the 99 percent, but what about the 80 percent? 80 percent of the US adult population has some form of periodontal disease. [1] Periodontal disease, which is defined as an inflammation of the tissues supporting the teeth, can be easily prevented or managed through performing good oral health habits.

Although our dental care may seem like a less integral aspect of our physical health, the truth is quite the opposite. Our mouths are at the center of our lives, allowing us to eat, drink and speak. Although our mouths are essential for living fulfilling lives, our care for our oral health often falls behind other elements on our master checklist.

Not only is it important to participate in preventive oral health so that the normal functions of our mouth are not disturbed, it is also important to brush twice a day, floss, and visit the dentist regularly to prevent other health complications such as heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease and stroke? That’s right, oral health is indeed tied to the health of the rest of the body. People with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. [2] Bacteria and plaque build up in our mouths can cause build-up in our blood as well, contributing to clot formation and inflammation of arteries.

We can take care of our oral health by brushing our teeth twice a day, and flossing regularly. Visiting a dentist frequently is essential for preventing infections, and other costly complications. Eating a balanced diet is important for maintaining good oral health just as it is for the rest of our body. Monitoring sugar intake and staying away from sugary drinks, such as sodas reduces the risk of cavities and leads to healthier teeth.

Although these things may seem less important than getting in your daily amount of physical activity, a few minutes brushing and flossing each day will go a long way. An investment in your oral health not only guarantees a brighter smile, but an overall healthier you. So start giving your mouth the attention it deserves.

[1] American Dental Association, 211 East Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

[2] American Academy of Periodontology. 737 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60611

Kay Monks

Kay is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C, where she is enrolled in the Health Promotion Education program. Kay has been an intern with AdvancingWellness since early 2011.

When it comes to tobacco use, our nation has come a long way. Between 1965 (when the first US general’s report came out) and 2000, rates dropped rapidly from almost 45% of American adults who smoked to approximately 25% in 2000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  However, since 2000 rates have steadied out – at about 19.3% as of 2010. Smoking is still costing the US more than it can afford. Smoking costs US businesses $97 billion dollars each year in productivity losses alone (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008).

People smoke for a number of reasons, including relief from stress or other discomforts, distraction, enjoyment, a concentration aid, social reasons, or for added help in weight management. Whatever the motivation may be that leads to smoking, the result is always the same- addiction. Quitting smoking is never as simple as starting.

Motivation plays a key role in quitting, and often is the predictor of success. Motivation behind behavior change can either be intrinsic or extrinsic. An extrinsic motivator is something external to the individual that is spawning the change. These tend to be incentives or punishments offered by a separate party. Extrinsic motivators, particularly with tobacco cessation, have not been associated with success. Intrinsic motivators are more effective in generating behavior change, as an intrinsic motivator would be internal and have value to the individual. For example, a mother may have a personal reason to lose weight such as being able to follow their toddler up and down the stairs.

With the knowledge that incentives and punishments may not be the most effective route to get employees to quit smoking, employers need to find another way to reach their employees. Programs often rely on incentives to increase awareness and participation. Incentives can still be used in this way for smoking cessation programming, however, it is important to remember their limitations and that there is no evidence that incentives actually increase quitting rates. Reasons for this may be linked to Prochaska’s[1] stages of change theory in which individuals are divided into five separate stages (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance) describing their readiness to change a behavior. Current smoking cessation programs are successful in moving individuals already in the action stage through the behavior. However, these programs have not yet found a way to be successful in generating long-term quitting in those in the pre-contemplation, contemplation and preparation stages.

Some employers are turning to policies to get their employees to quit smoking. Again, just like with incentives, policies represent an extrinsic motivator for employees and may not generate long-term change, or drastically changing the health status and costs of the organization.

In order to generate not only immediate, but indefinite behavior change in smokers programs need to focus on the individual and provide support (Cochrane Collaborative Review). Along with policies, employers need to review what benefits are available for employees. The more access employees who are contemplating or attempting quitting have to various sources of support (nicotine replacement therapy, group programming, individual counseling etc.), the more likely they are to succeed. Employees should be educated on the policy and why it exists, and encouraged to take advantage of the resources provided to help them. Focusing on other components of health, such as physical activity, nutrition and social support also strengthens a program as well as helps to prevent relapse. Smoking is not an isolated behavior, and letting employees know their overall health status is cared about will contribute to their success, as well as to an organization’s positive and supportive environment.

[1] Glanz, K., F. Marcus-Lewis, and B.K. Rimer, editors (2008).  Health Behavior and Health Education, (4th  edition).  California: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

 Kay Monks

Kay is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C, where she is enrolled in the Health Promotion Education program. Kay has been an intern with AdvancingWellness since early 2011.



John sat at his desk, exhausted. Not being able to focus on his work that he was already behind on, he thought about how not only has he lost attention at work, but how his interest in most aspects of his life has also diminished. He realized his whole outlook had shifted. He no longer could see the positives, and could only dwell on the negatives.

John is not alone. Exhibiting symptoms of depression, he is one of approximately 18.8 million American adults who face depression each year. Depression ranks third for problems within the workplace for employees, only behind family crisis and stress, according to Mental Health America. Not only do employees report depression as a workplace issue, but depression is also something employers need to become increasingly aware of. Mental Health America calculates that untreated depression costs the United States over 51 billion dollars due to absenteeism and lost productivity.

What is depression? The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy activities for an extended amount of time. Depression is a common, and serious illness. Symptoms include those that John was experiencing; fatigue, lack of ability focus, loss of interest in activities that were once joyful, and a hopeless outlook. For a full list of symptoms associated with depression, visit http://1.usa.gov/FQ7nn6. In the workplace, it is especially important to take note of a decrease in consistency or productivity and quality of work, an increase in absenteeism, errors, procrastination and incidences of withdrawal.

Luckily for John, his concerned wife was able to get him to see his doctor, who identified the problem. John started medication and quickly began to improve. John’s ability to get control of his depression isn’t the exception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if diagnosed and treated about 80% of cases of depression can improve. Depression can be managed and employees can live a fulfilling and successful life even with this diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the negative stigma associated with clinical depression is making it hard for employees to seek treatment and disclose their diagnosis to colleagues and supervisors. Not everyone has the same support that John had, leaving them alone to handle their disease. Employees may not want to be judged or regarded any differently, and therefore keep their diagnosis to themselves, only increasing their level of stress.

Those with depression are now protected through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expands employer’s responsibilities in making accommodations for employees with mental health disabilities as well. Employees with depression should now feel comfortable talking to their employer in order to reach a better understanding of the employee’s needs.

Employers and managers should be well versed in the Employee Assistant Programs that they offer their employees. Being familiar with the benefits available will allow employers to encourage employees to take advantage of these services.

Just like John, one out of every 10 American adults faces depression. Raising awareness among managers and employees helps to create an understanding and supportive environment for these employees. Not only could this type of positive workplace culture help to prevent depressive illnesses, it will also foster feelings of support and comfort for those already diagnosed. This allows employees to reach out, thus creating a stronger team and organization. Promoting a supportive and positive workplace environment is now more important as ever, as rates of depression continue to rise.

Kay Monks

Kay is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C, where she is enrolled in the Health Promotion Education program. Kay has been an intern with AdvancingWellness since early 2011.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unplanned absences cost American businesses an average of 2.8 million workdays each year – equivalent to the loss of 74 billion dollars. With the costs of running a business already steadily increasing, corporations cannot afford not to address the issue of absenteeism.

Absenteeism affects businesses multi-dimensionally. Corporations are impacted financially due to absences and needing to pay employees even when they are not in the office. Costs increase due to loss of productivity, the cost of hiring temporary labor, and time and money spent on tracking absences, and recruiting and training temporary employees. It is also shown that there is a direct correlation between absences and turnover, meaning if an employee has many absences they are more likely to leave a job.

Why are employees missing so many days of work? About two thirds of employee absenteeism is due to issues other than illness, including stress, being overworked, dissatisfaction on the job, a lack committed to the workplace and insufficient challenge in their work.

However, because of broad policies around time off, there is no simple way of tracking what is specifically keeping employees out of the office. Are they not showing up because of illness, another family member’s illness, or poor health in general? It is unclear whether employees are missing work because of legitimate illnesses or other underlying issues.

The most direct way to solve the ambiguity of absenteeism is to re-write policies that distinguish why employees are taking the day off. Having a clause within time-off policies allows for easier and clearer tracking when it comes to why employees are missing work.

In order to keep employees in the office and stop them from getting into the habit of calling out, they need to be motivated and engaged. Challenging and interesting work can go a long way, however a supportive and enticing culture is needed in order to keep employees engaged. A positive environment can help alleviate other issues such as stress, dissatisfaction and lack of commitment. A workplace that promotes teamwork, support and an overall positive culture will keep employees active and energized about their job, and will reduce absenteeism.

Kay Monks

Kay is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C, where she is enrolled in the Health Promotion Education program. Kay has been an intern with AdvancingWellness since early 2011.


You may be familiar with the old food pyramid, which showed the guidelines for healthy eating. The USDA has changed the healthy eating guidelines from the food pyramid to Choose My Plate, a pictorial overview of what your plate should look like at each meal to optimize physical health.

Dr. Daniel Siegel,  a respected clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, asked the question, what would the equivalent of a recommended daily diet for a healthy mind look like? To answer that question he created the Healthy Mind Platter.  a pictorial overview of seven daily essential mental activities you should do each and every day to optimize brain matter and create well being.  The seven essentials are;

1. Focus Time When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.  These connections are not created when we multi-task.

2. Play Time When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.

3.Connecting Time When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.

4.Physical Time When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.

5.Time In When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.

6.Down Time When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.

7.Sleep Time When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

What I found most fascinating is the science and research behind these seven essentials.  And even better, they are easy and fun to do.  So play, connect, get physical and in the process fight off mental decline and increase happiness – what’s not to like?


Valorie Bender


The Healthy Mind Platter was created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine in collaboration with Dr. David Rock, Executive Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.