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  November 3, 2003

Health Promotion Project Helps
Pratt & Whitney Employees

Many of Pratt & Whitney's nearly 13,000 Connecticut employees are getting healthier, thanks to an innovative program conducted by UConn's Center for Health Promotion in the School of Allied Health.

Image: Pratt & Whitney workers walk for fitness.

Workers at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford walk for fitness as part of a health promotion program run by UConn faculty and graduate students.

Photo by Peter Morenus

Linda Pescatello

Linda Pescatello, associate professor and principal investigator for the Pratt & Whitney project.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

Working closely with the company's medical department, UConn faculty and graduate students are providing health assessments, monitoring employee progress, and developing educational and behavioral modification programs.

"The special feature we bring is our ability to conduct both program evaluation and research on the health interventions we bring to their employees," says Linda S. Pescatello, associate professor and director of the Center for Health Promotion and program director and principal investigator for the Pratt & Whitney project.

Pescatello says the Pratt & Whitney program is characterized by a collaborative approach that includes participation by faculty and students in various University departments. These include students under the supervision of George Allen, professor of psychology; Nancy Rodriguez, associate professor of nutritional sciences; Sherry Bassi, assistant professor of nursing; and Valerie Duffy, associate professor of allied health.

The program includes preventive screening; cardiovascular health risk assessment; a walking program; brown bag learning seminars on various health topics; and behavior modification programs for nutrition and weight management, smoking cessation, and stress management.

Pratt & Whitney decided to develop the program when its medical department identified heart disease and related conditions - such as obesity, depression, and hypertension - as the costly diseases most affecting its employees. The company found that more than 30 percent of its workforce has blood pressure readings between high normal and hypertension. After making this determination, Pratt & Whitney decided to implement a hypertension management and control program designed by UConn's Center for Health Promotion.

The collaboration has "greatly enhanced the health and productivity of our employees," says Judyth Crystal, Pratt & Whitney wellness coordinator.

One 49-year-old employee, for example, who was under treatment for high blood pressure, began participating in the UConn program by discontinuing his blood pressure medication with the permission of his personal physician. UConn consultants guided him through a program of diet and exercise. After six weeks in the program, the employee lost 12 pounds, his cholesterol levels were lowered, and his blood pressure was within normal ranges.

Pescatello says the graduate student team coordinator, Joanne Arena, and the five other graduate students who coordinate the day-to-day programs gain valuable practical experience while pursing their master's degrees or completing their dissertations.

"The program provides students with education and training in health promotion service delivery, as well as the opportunity to acquire research skills," she says.

Other research projects being conducted by the Center for Health Promotion include the Older Adult Health Screen and Education Project, funded by the Area Agencies on Aging; Establishing an Exercise Dose for Postexercise Hypotension (low blood pressure), funded by the American Heart Association; and Functional Polymorphisms Associated with Muscle Strength and Size, a multicenter series of clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health.