Two years ago, more than 1,100 LIUNA members participated in a study to test how well a “tailored telephone-delivered and mailed intervention” would work to promote smoking cessation and increase fruit and vegetable consumption, compared to simple print materials mailed to members’ homes.

Known as Tools for Health, the study showed that with this type of support and encouragement Laborers were quite able to adopt more healthy behaviors.  On the smoking front, 19 percent of the intervention group had quit smoking within six months, compared to eight percent in the control group. On the dietary front, the intervention group increased its fruit and vegetable consumption by one and a half servings more per day than the control group.

 Participants in both the intervention and control groups were Laborers who agreed to take a baseline survey about their smoking and dietary habits.  They were then randomly divided into the control and intervention groups.  The intervention group received (1) a mailed feedback report tailored to their personal situation as revealed in the survey, (2) several one-on-one motivational counseling sessions via telephone with a health advisor and (3) targeted written education materials, mailed across the intervention period in six separate mailings.  The control group received only the education materials, all in one mailing. 

A key aspect of the study was the use of focus groups to gather information to ensure that all aspects of the intervention were Laborer-friendly.  For instance, the preparation of educational materials was specifically designed to connect with Laborers.  The title – Tools for Health, the images and the messaging were intended to convey the support, involvement and interest of LIUNA in encouraging positive behavioral change among its members.  Also, the telephone counseling addressed issues in the work environment such as exposure to hazardous substances and the need to be physically fit for work.  The study confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that Laborers would be positively motivated by health messages that were work-specific and clearly supported by the union.

While the study showed the potential of tailored interventions, it did not address their higher associated costs.  However, the researchers believe the savings to employers, health and welfare funds and other health care payers in reducing the long-term health risks of smoking and poor diets may be enough to justify the added expense.

The study was conducted for the LHSFNA by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute with a grant from the National Cancer Institute.