Employees Are What They Eat – The Importance of Integrating Nutrition in Corporate Wellness
For many years, corporate wellness programs focused almost entirely on movement programming, ranging from on-site fitness centers to group classes to online modules around general fitness. All of these options deliver significant value to the employee, but for too many years, optimal nutrition integration has been a missing part of the puzzle. Here we have outlined five reasons why employees are what they eat, and why on-site nutrition programming should be top of mind for employers in evaluating wellness solutions.
- Rising Medical Costs: Simply put, employers can’t afford to ignore the impact of heart disease and diabetes on their healthcare premiums—the American Heart Association estimates heart disease costs alone will triple by 2030. Lowering the risk factors for diabetes and heart disease alike requires more than just fitness programming: employers must provide integrated, dynamic and engaging nutrition education content and support so that employees think differently about how they eat each day. To quantify potential impact, we recently did a program with Intel that included both on-site fitness and personalized nutrition. Over just fourteen weeks, the average percentage decrease in cholesterol was 5.03%, average fat loss was 14 pounds, and V02 scores increased by an average of 19%. There was a 30% change in participants characterized as “at risk” based on their lipid profile—a staggering number when you consider the potential impact on claims data.
- Meeting People Where They Are: For many employees, the notion of working out is simply too big of a jump given their current health state. Nutrition is a great way to reach non-movers with simple, actionable programming they can incorporate slowly into their lives. For many years, nutrition has become synonymous with weight loss. While trying to lose weight, people often lose sight of why we really eat. Bringing in dynamic and supportive nutrition programming can help guide people to choose foods that nourish the body, provide sustainable energy, and improve the way they feel as opposed to short-term fixes to lose five pounds. Every employee has to eat, so finding a way to meet them where they are and make small upgrades to their daily rituals can lead to the sustainable change employees and employers are looking for.
- Nutrition is a Family Affair: Employers have offered a wide range of on-site solutions for corporate wellness, but continue to struggle with ways to engage the employees’ families in a meaningful way. The result? Often poor nutrition habits are fostered at home, leading to higher claims for the entire family. Finding ways to meaningfully engage with employees around nutrition can have a positive impact at home. By way of example, one of our wellness clients at Intel said he always knew he should eat breakfast, but didn’t know how to create a quick, convenient, and healthy option. After figuring out what worked best for him, he purchased healthy breakfast options, including whole-grain, high-protein cereal, for his entire family, the start of what we call “an upward spiral” in their home toward healthier habits.
- The Results Speak for Themselves: Simply put, many people sabotage even their best efforts at fitness with poor nutrition. At C&S Wholesale Grocers, based in Keene, NH, we watched as many of their employees worked eight hour shifts with significant physical exertion without consuming a single ounce of water throughout the day. As little as 2% weight loss due to sweating can lead to up to a 25% decrease in productivity, so even educating employees about small changes in hydration can lead to significant improve in how an employee feels throughout the day at work. To address this issue, we provided simple education tools at warehouse sites, along with urine charts for their bathrooms so that employees could monitor their own hydration levels. These simple reminders and changes can lead to noteworthy results for employees and employers alike.
Now that we’ve addressed the importance of nutrition in wellness programming, I’ve outlined a few key considerations for employers when considering nutrition programs at their corporation:
- Integrate Nutrition into Fitness Programming: Nutrition programming often lives in the medical and clinical side of corporate wellness programs. This creates an association of nutrition with disease management or a reactive solution that needs to be addressed when something is wrong. A new avenue for the delivery of nutrition content and programming should be in parallel with the fitness programs. Fitness programs focus on having more energy, stamina, and strength. Linking nutrition to these goals allows for employees to see nutrition as fuel for their performance and a way to expedite the process of reaching their goals.
- Re-frame the Approach: Everyone can benefit from a nutrition tune-up. The foods we choose to eat are linked to the energy we have to be productive in our careers, present with our families, and enjoy the activities that make us who we are. Learning to choose the right foods, in the right amounts, at the right time is the key to feeling and performing the best you can in whatever you choose to do. Nutrition programming should focus on food as the fuel for our lives and provide the education and simple strategies to take advantage and get the most out of every time we eat.
- Keep it Simple: Employees need simple strategies that they can incorporate in their daily lives, so focus on key priorities like hydration, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, or upgrading healthy snack options on your campus, and create simple ways for your employees to learn more and take part.
- Make it Fun: Nobody wants to be lectured on what they are doing wrong, so making nutrition programming fun and relatable is imperative to its success with your teams. Creating nutrition challenges, remake a recipe contests, or lunch and learns where employees can have interact with one another and have fun while learning more are all great options to keep employees excited rather than tired by nutrition programming.
- Build Community: Invite employees and their families to participate in a healthier barbeque or picnic lunch on campus and work with a local grocery store to provide a coupon for employees to try out healthier breakfast fare for a week. Engaging a broader audience in the conversation with lead to broader engagements and results for everyone involved.
Whether your employees are unloading pallets every day, manning a service center, or traveling non-stop, nutrition has the ability to transform their lives, increasing energy levels, improving performance, and advancing their health state. To date, most employee nutrition programs have been stand-alone online modules or education seminars without the personalization, ongoing support, and integration necessary to make them a sustainable success. To create impactful nutrition programming, it’s imperative that companies consider integrating nutrition education and support with fitness, maximizing each individual’s ability to make sustainable changes to their overall health.
About the Author
Amanda Carlson-Phillips is the Vice President of Nutrition and Research at Core Performance. Core Performance combines innovation, coaching, and technology to deliver unmatched, sustainable results for employees and companies alike. Amanda has designed leading-edge nutrition protocols for wellness programming at Intel and C&S. To learn more about Core Performance, please visit www.coreperformance.com/corporate-wellness.