The National Center for Health Fitness (NCHF) was founded at American University in January 1980. Its initial purpose was to provide a research and educational setting that could provide leadership for the nation in the areas of health risk identification and life-style improvement. Also, the founding of the NCHF was inextricably linked with the establishment of the interdisciplinary Masters Program in Health and Fitness Management (now Health Promotion Management). Today, almost thirty years later, the NCHF and the MS program not only have a long and well-established history of successfully carrying out their original charters but also have established an international reputation for their innovative educational and research programs and accomplishments. More recently, in 1996, the university’s International Institute for Health Promotion (IIHP) was founded to extend the vision and reach of the NCHF and the MS programs and to provide a global perspective with respect to current and future issues related to health promotion.
The overarching philosophical foundation of the all of the educational, research and programmatically activities of the NCHF and its related entities is rooted in the sincere desire to advance the health status for all people. To that end, it was determined at the time of the founding of the NCHF that the most effective and efficient place to accomplish that objective was in work settings. Thus, starting in the very early 1980’s and continuing today, the NCHF has been intimately involved with the design, implementation, operation and evaluation of comprehensive workplace health promotion programs.
American University’s NCHF has a record of past experience and success in designing, implementing, and evaluating worksite health promotion programs for the U.S.’s Army’s Office of Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Army Staff, Army Materiel Command, and U.S. Postal Service. We continue to run the U.S. Postal Service’s worksite health promotion program since we started their program in 1987.
As the world becomes more global, and the mix of cultures in this country and certainly in our nation continues to grow, the NCHF would be remiss not take a multi-cultural approach to health promotion. Just as the obesity epidemic reaches across ethnicities and cultures, health promotion must strive to address the goals for health communication, education, and policy to reach across ethnic groups. In response, the NCHF founded the International Institute for Health Promotion (IIHP) in 1996. The IIHP strives to advance health promotion through the facilitation and development of collaborative strategies, research and education initiatives, and communication networks.
Expansion of Health Promotion Activities with the US Army
In the early 1980s, the Surgeon General’s Task Force on Fitness and Health and two groups of academic researchers from American University and Uniformed Services University assisted the US Army with its entrée to health promotion. The first investigation with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel (ODCSPER) was so well received that a cascade of programming and evaluation followed. American University’s NCHF maintained a relationship for delivering and evaluation health promotion activities from 1982 through 1998. It is our hope that this initiative between NHLBI and NCHF will result in a similar long-standing relationship.
The ODCSPER study exhibited not only favorable results, but participants also expressed a desire to have more access to health promotion activities. The Army leadership decided to extend and amplify the health promotion program at the Pentagon. At that time in 1984, the focus on health promotion was still in its infancy stage, and NCHF had already established itself as a leader in field through its innovative master of science program in Health Fitness Management which accepted its first students in 1979.
To respond to the Pentagon’s request to extend the health promotion program, NCHF was awarded the three and one-half year study conducted for the U.S. Army Staff, centering on cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness measures of health promotion in a military/civilian staff. This comprehensive research project investigated the impact of a tailored WSHP program on the reduction of health risk, absenteeism, productivity, and health care use. The scope of this project involved the design, delivery, management, and staffing of the program and research components. The research results were disseminated in a variety of forums.
The favorable reception of the ARSTAF project during its first year of operations contributed to a decision to extend the Army’s association with health promotion to the US Army Materiel Command (AMC). The AMC project which ran for more than twelve years contained a research component for the first four years. The AMC program and research evaluation were modeled after the Pentagon program and evaluation. The NCHF was initially awarded a four-year contract to deliver and evaluate the AMC program. Subsequently, due to the NCHF performance which exceeded expectations, AMC awarded three renewals to continue this work. Similar to the ARSTAF contract, the NCHF responsibilities included design, delivery, management, and operation of the program and research components.
The basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the health promotion program on the four dependent measures included both self-report and objective data. The Centers for Disease Control Health Risk Appraisal was capable of integrating objective physiological and blood chemistries to establish a general index of health. Employee pay stubs were used to determine absenteeism hours. A survey instrument was developed for assessing productivity. Each of twenty-three health carriers were approached to secure employee health care records. The logistics for obtaining these data were formidable, and it is quite a tribute to the research staff that such complete data were captured.