When Promoting Health, Cake is Sometimes Better than Carrots

Hattie Bernstein

This summer, after launching The Mason Light Olympians, a workplace wellness program for town employees, Barbara Milkovits, quickly discovered that attracting participants was easier with cake than with carrots.

"I've always felt that if you offer food, people will come," said Milkovits, the town's administrative assistant and health and safety coordinator.

Milkovits also harnessed the power of advertising, promoting her program as a "lazy summer activity" and promising fun and games, not discipline and deprivation.

"We thought we could get people thinking about getting active while they were watching the Olympics," she said. "We wanted them to feel inspired."

To begin, Milkovits and office assistant Martha Simmons developed a theme, "Rejuve, Recharge, and Reset," and a slate of activities that included game night, Mindfulness Meditation, a nutrition lecture, and a visit from "Helen the Foot Guru," an employee of Eastern Mountain Sports, who talked about foot health and how to get a good fit when shopping for shoes and socks.

"We had local people coming in and there were giveaway items plus items for sale," Milkovits said, adding that the town's police and fire chiefs and the road agent were among the group of regular attendees.

Eight town employees, including the public safety officials, a highway worker, and a selectman attended a class on mindfulness meditation taught by a local yoga instructor who during the previous year had offered chair yoga at the town offices.

"We had a nice group, representing diverse jobs, and they really got into it," Milkovits said. "The next day, we were all saying how well we had slept the night before."

Whether it was a stroll along the nearby rail trail, an evening of trivia, or a nutrition talk, each gathering concluded with refreshments. Following the mindful meditation class, for example, participants were treated to angel cake with a cream filling made from Greek yogurt, honey, and orange zest, topped with Milkovits' homemade raspberry-peach melba sauce and dark chocolate shavings.

"We like to feed people, and we do a pretty good job," Milkovits said.

This was the second year that the town participated in the LGC Health and Safety Coordinator Academy workplace wellness initiative, and Milkovits said she's planning to take part in the 2013 program.

Meanwhile, she's continued the summer initiative with scheduled rail trail hikes and plans to assemble a cookbook filled with recipes for the treats that town employees enjoyed after each wellness session.

"Five hundred dollars isn't a lot of money, but if you're real careful and look around, stay local, you can find a few good things, people who are great in their field," Milkovits said, explaining how she used Academy "cash," $500 provided to each town or school group that completes the LGC Health and Safety Academy.

"We offer a lot of variety to get people to come and enjoy and take something away," she said.

Hattie Bernstein is the Communications Specialist for the New Hampshire Local Government Center. You can reach her at 603.230.3342 or by email.

For more information about the Health and Safety Coordinator Academy and other LGC health-related programs, visit the NHLGC website.

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