How Healthy Eating Can Impact Your Employees & Your Business

July 26, 2017

Whether you’re vegan, paleo, gluten-free, or unapologetically omnivorous, chances are you spend a good deal of time every day thinking about food. What’s in your fridge? What are you having for dinner? What do you need to buy at the supermarket? What should you eat for a snack in the next few minutes? You get the picture.

And with the proliferation of Pinterest, Instagram, and the internet in general, it’s never been easier to find drool-worthy recipes with a few taps or swipes. But you know what hasn’t gotten easier? Choosing the healthiest options. It’s hard to weigh all the conflicting information and know what’s right for you.

And you may not realize it, but as an employer you have the ability to make a significant impact on your employees’ eating choices.

How are employers approaching nutrition-focused wellbeing programs and why should you consider offering one to your employees? Read on to find out!

Employee wellbeing & nutrition programs: A quick overview

According to the 2017 Employee Benefits Report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a significant number—59%—of forward-thinking employers have dedicated resources toward employee wellbeing and 71% offer wellbeing resources and information.

These are some of the most common nutrition and diet-related offerings:

– 30% of employers offer weight-loss programs

– 16% of employers offer nutritional counseling

– 5% of employers offer onsite vegetable gardens

The prevalence of these offerings also reflects employee sentiments: 87% of employees say that they are open to employer-sponsored wellbeing programs and the CDC reports that employees are supportive of changes to their workplace food environment, including healthier options at workplace cafeterias, preferential pricing of healthy options, point-of sale icons, and nutrition labels.

So let’s dig a little more into why it makes sense to focus on nutrition and healthy eating in the workplace.

Why nutrition matters in general (AKA “Eat your vegetables!”)

What we eat has a big impact on both causing and preventing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers. Eating four to five servings of fruit and four to five cups of vegetables a day can prevent some of these negative health outcomes.

And while the focus of this post is on nutrition rather than weight loss, research has shown that replacing foods of high energy density with foods of lower energy density (lower calories per weight of food, such as fruits and vegetables), can be an important part of a weight-management strategy. In other words, eating better tends to help people stay at a healthy weight!

And yet in spite of all this information, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that fewer than one in ten Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. Yikes! Moms everywhere are shaking their heads right now.

Why nutrition matters for your employees

As mentioned above, creating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet will help prevent many serious diseases and conditions. This is pretty great since it can mean lower healthcare costs for your company, fewer sick days, and just a generally healthier workforce. There may also be a connection between physical wellbeing and engagement, meaning that healthier employees tend to be more focused and productive at work.

Plus, a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that spending money on nutrition counseling with a Registered Dietitian could actually save companies money in the long run. For example, people with type 2 diabetes who received nutrition counseling reduced their risk of workdays lost by 64% and their risk of disability days by 87%.

Why offer nutrition guidance in the workplace?

Even if you can see the connection between healthy eating choices and your employees, you may still be wondering whether it’s your role as an employer to offer nutritional guidance to your employees. Will they feel like you’re overstepping your bounds? Will they be receptive to this type of programming? The best way to answer those questions is to ask your employees directly. Survey them to learn whether they’re open to wellbeing programs and if nutrition is a particular topic of interest for them.

If it turns out that they are interested in nutrition, that’s great! You’ll definitely want to keep reading.

There are a number of reasons why employer-sponsored nutrition programs have a high chance of promoting lasting behavior change. Here are a few of them:

– Employer-sponsored programs can be offered repeatedly so employees get ongoing support

– Employers have the ability to alter the food environment in the office, making it easier for your employees to make healthy choices

– The social networks in offices can provide support and encourage participants to work towards a common goal

Getting started: Healthy eating program ideas

Seriously considering making healthy eating a focus in your workplace? That’s great! Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

– The Harvard Business Review reports that, “Extensive evidence from behavioral economics has shown that information rarely succeeds in changing behavior or building new habits for fitness and food choices.” In other words, it’s not enough to merely provide information. You’ll need to take a more active role in order to inspire real change. It’s also helpful to think about behavior change on a personal level by helping your employees to set personal goals and develop healthy habits.

– According to the CDC, addressing issues related to the availability of nutritious foods and point of purchase are the strategies with “the strongest evidence for promoting good nutritional behaviors.” So you’ll want to make sure that fruits, vegetables, and other healthy choices are readily available in onsite kitchens, cafeterias, vending machines, etc.

– A Harvard study on obesity prevention also included a number of recommendations such as obtaining support from senior management, tailoring programs to employees’ needs and preferences, creating inclusive programs that all employees can participate in, and monitoring a program’s success.


A few final thoughts

We’ve covered a lot of information—why nutrition is such an essential element of a healthy lifestyle, how it affects your employees, why it makes sense to offer nutrition-focused wellbeing programs, and a few ideas to help you ensure your program promotes actual behavior change. And while we know that information alone won’t prompt lasting change, we hope we’ve made it at least a little easier to make some healthful choices for yourself and your employees.

Now we’d love to hear from you! What has your experience been with workplace nutrition programs? Do you have any best practices or words of wisdom to share? Drop us a line in the comments section to let us know!

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