Linnan to study workplace health in McDowell County

July 10, 2014

Dr. Laura Linnan

Dr. Laura Linnan

A partnership with North Carolina’s McDowell County will enable Laura Linnan, ScD, professor of health behavior at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, and director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health (CCRWH), to study workplace health in the county.

In collaboration with the McDowell County Health Coalition’s workplace wellness committee, the county Economic Development Association and Chamber of Commerce, Linnan and her team will seek input from about 400 employers about their current health programming and their interest in developing other such workplace programs.

In North Carolina, each local health department is responsible for conducting a periodic community health assessment (CHA), a systematic collection, analysis and dissemination of information about the community’s health. Its purpose is to identify factors that affect health and resources available to meet the community’s health needs. Linnan’s project will help meet four of McDowell County’s five current CHA priorities, including ones addressing tobacco use, healthy eating and active living, substance abuse and behavioral health, and access to care.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for McDowell County, its employers and its employees,” said county manager Chuck Abernathy, co-chair of the Health Coalition’s workplace wellness committee. “This will be a first-time initiative in reviewing such a large number of employers in one region at one time. This should give us a factual, innovative way to improve the health of our neighbors and…of the companies where they are employed.”

During the nine-month study, researchers will survey all employers about wellness practices, interests, suggestions and concerns, and then will conduct intensive interviews with 21 small, medium and large employers and their employees, to obtain more in-depth information about their health needs and interests.

A report to be issued by the research team in spring 2015 will serve as a roadmap to increase adoption of workplace wellness programs and guide implementation of evidence-based approaches to promote workplace and worker health. Researchers and county leaders anticipate implementing strategies to help employees increase physical activity, lower body mass index (BMI), decrease absences for sickness and increase productivity, and lower health-care costs.

“We spend a majority of our day at work,” said Steve Bush, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the wellness committee, “and employers realize that they need and want healthy employees. It is our responsibility to take care of our workers for the sake of themselves and their families – and the community as a whole.”

“We are pleased to partner with community leaders, employers and employees to help benchmark current practices and establish an excellent plan for moving forward to improve health outcomes in McDowell County,” Linnan said. “This work is completely consistent with the mission of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, so we are excited to get started!”

Linnan’s research in workplace health has spanned more than twenty years and has focused on reducing chronic disease risk by addressing issues intersecting work, health and family life. Her work at the Carolina Collaborative brings together interdisciplinary groups of researchers and practitioners interested in improving workplace and worker health outcomes. She was lead author of the most recent national survey of worksite health promotion which will serve as an important foundation for the McDowell County initiative.

McDowell County is undertaking the work thanks to a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal and private agencies have supported Linnan’s previous intervention research promoting physical activity, reducing obesity, limiting tobacco use and encouraging recommended health screenings, especially among populations that suffer health disparities. The McDowell County study will build on this work by adding an important community-workplace partnership supported by current funding from the Reynolds Foundation’s Healthy Places Initiative.

Note: Some information in this report originally appeared in the McDowell News.

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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