Business of Well-being

Interview with Dr. Julia Halberg, Director of Global Health, General Mills

Interview with Dr. Julia Halberg, Director of Global Health, General Mills

- By Jonathan Edelheit

Corporate Wellness Magazine: Julia, tell us a little about yourself and what you do now at General Mills.

Julia: I completed residency training in internal medicine and occupational medicine. Thereafter I worked in private practice and then at two hospital systems, where I had clinical responsibilities and was also involved in disability management. I came to General Mills nine years ago as the Medical Director of Health Services. Since that time I have been actively involved in health promotion.

CWM: How important is corporate wellness? Is it one of the only ways to reduce healthcare costs?

Julia: Here at General Mills, wellness is very important. Our mission is "Nourishing Lives," which centers on making lives healthier, easier and richer. This platform of health applies to both our products and our people. Although costs are an issue for all companies, in my role I am able to focus on the benefits of healthy lifestyles.

We believe that our programs and approach to health and wellness impact employee recruitment and retention, and have led to external recognition from publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine and Fortune.

As a physician, it's a wonderful time to be at General Mills because we are helping our employees make healthier lifestyle choices. If we do what is best for our employees, we will do what is best for General Mills.

CWM: What corporate wellness programs have you seen implemented at General Mills?

Julia: We have many different programs, focusing on good nutrition, active lifestyles and providing opportunities for our employees to learn their "health numbers." Our patented Health Number screening provides information on cancer, while measuring employees' blood pressure, BMI, fasting glucose and cholesterol levels.

Other examples include in-house fitness facilities and discounts to community fitness centers. Through "Fitness Friday" offerings - such as dodge ball -- employees are reminded that they can have fun while team-building. Our offerings also include programs centered on well-being meditation and mindfulness.

Our in-house clinic is based on preventive services, which is unique. Our services include a dermatologist, dentist and a hygienist. We also have an optometrist, a contact lens tech and an eyeglass specialist. We have counselors and physical therapists onsite, as well as a preventive cardiologist. All these services -- and more -- are provided free of charge to General Mills employees.

CWM: What programs have had the most success?

Julia:  We offer a variety of programs so that employees can make their own choices on where they think they can be successful, be it with nutrition, exercise or resiliency. One of the most successful programs we have is the "Health Number," a 10-element health assessment that is very popular because of its simplicity.

Employees answer questions on nutrition, exercise, alcohol and nicotine use, stress management, safety and cancer screening. The remaining four elements are objective measurements of blood pressure, body mass index, and glucose and cholesterol measurements. The entire process can be completed in less than 15 minutes. Then health coaches talk with employees about their score, encouraging them to pick one area that they want to improve upon in the coming year.  

Another program we have introduced to our Supply Chain in North America is designed to highlight healthy blood pressure and weight/BMI through the "health number." We recently installed health stations in all of our plants with 50 or more employees. The machines allow our employees to confidentially collect details on their blood pressure, heart rate, BMI and weight, and to download pedometer and glucometer information. Employees can track their progress and bring specifics to their health care providers for evaluation.

CWM: What is the best way to get employee engagement in your wellness programs?

Julia: Keep it simple. Keep it fun. As the Company of Champions (e.g. Wheaties), we try to identify local champions among our employees. By sharing their own success stories, their ability to motivate and engage others is very powerful.

CWM: What would you say to another employer that is interested in wellness programs, but isn't sure if they will get their return on investment?

Julia: We are very fortunate at General Mills to have support from the top down. We are aware of studies show a 3:1 ROI on employee wellness programs, and we concur with that kind of success. More broadly, though, we embrace employee wellness because it's the right thing to do and because it's smart for business.

About the Author

Jonathan Edelheit is Editor-In-Chief of the Corporate Wellness Magazine, the only Corporate Wellness Magazine in the industry focused on Health and Wellness in the workplace.  Mr. Edelheit has been involved in US healthcare for almost ten years and ran a national healthcare administrator for almost seven years that administered healthcare plans for insurance companies, employers and governments.

While running the healthcare administrator Mr. Edelheit started to implement the first corporate wellness programs there through many tools such as health risk assessments, tele-medicine, e-health and many more options. Mr. Edelheit has been featured or mentioned in hundreds of media publications and in February 2008 was featured as a visionary in US healthcare by Executive Managed Healthcare Magazine.

Mr. Edelheit also organizes the Corporate Wellness Conference which is the only dedicated national conference on corporate health and wellness in the country and which targets employers, health insurance agents and large consulting firms. Mr. Edelheit is also an attorney. Jonathan Edelheit may be contacted at

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