Fitness & Nutrition

Employee Nutrition - The Biting Impact on Your Bottom Line

A quick search for "best diet" brings 3.5 million results on YouTube and 447,000 results on Google. At the top of the Google search, U.S. News recently posted a "Best Diets" review, giving the DASH Diet the number one rating. Yet, when it comes to diet-defined as "the kinds of food a person habitually eats"-there is no-one-size-fits-all approach that can support each individual's lifestyle goals.

In an online poll, 1,057 Americans were asked which is harder: Figuring out what you should and shouldn't eat to be healthier OR figuring out how to do your own taxes. Fifty-two percent said figuring out what to eat; 48 percent said taxes.It doesn't need to be this hard. As an employer, you can help employees navigate multiple food choices and provide effective, scientifically-sound tools as part of your wellness program that can make eating healthier easier.

The rewards for doing so are plentiful-including some that may surprise you. Here are 11 reasons why improving employee nutrition by providing personalized assistance and a supportive corporate community that helps encourage sustainable healthy actions makes good business sense.

1. Daily food choices matter to employee health.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that poor nutrition is one of the top four health risk behaviors that leads to chronic disease and obesity. (Other risk behaviors include physical inactivity, tobacco use and drinking too much alcohol.)

2. Poor diets, rich foods make waistlines wider.

Over the past 35 years, obesity rates have more than doubled. In fact, the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960. Today, more than 33 percent of adults are obese. In fact, obesity increases the risk of more than 20 conditions, including sleep apnea, stroke, liver and gall-bladder disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, coronary heart disease, endometrial and colon cancers, Type 2 diabetes and respiratory problems.

3. Employers pay a high price for poor nutrition.

Annual medical costs for obese people are $1,429 to $2,741 higher than people of a healthy weight. The direct medical costs of obesity include health care services, medical tests and drugs to treat comorbidities of obesity-related diseases. Nutrition also has an effect on worker productivity.

Eating unhealthily is linked to a 66 percent increased risk of loss of productivity. In fact, total health-related employee productivity loss accounts for 77 percent of all such loss and costs employers two to three times more than annual health care expenses. Poor dietary habits are linked to more deaths than any other lifestyle behavior-including smoking, high blood pressure and high body mass index.

4. Food for thought on potential cost savings.

According to the USDA, healthier diets could prevent at least $71 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and lost lives.

5. The bread and butter of a healthy diet.

The key to healthy eating: Finding the right dietary pattern that meets individual nutrient needs and personal food preferences while staying within calorie limits. Some of the healthiest dietary patterns include the following powerhouse foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins and healthy fats. USDA dietary guidelines highlight five food groups as building blocks for a healthy diet: Fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

6. Take 5 (or more).

For fruits and vegetables, for example, guidelines recommend 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables for each adult, depending on age, gender and physical activity.

7. Don't let employees be average.

The average person only consumes 1.8 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.

8. Ouch! Eating less fruits and vegetables hurts the pocketbook.

The approximate excess annual medical costs for an adult at high risk (vs. low risk) for low fruit and vegetable intake are $656.

9. The low-hanging fruit for employers.

Employers can combat rising health care costs and boost employee productivity when nutrition programs are part of an employer's culture of health.

10. A reason to feed nutrition information at your worksite.

Since employees spend a great deal of their day at work, employers can make an impact the health and wellness of employees through nutrition interventions, so employees don't have to go it alone. Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows workplaces that provide diet recommendations as well as behavioral change education are shown to be effective in reducing body weight and other potentially costly health risk factors.

11. Proper diets put a kick in your employees' step, too.

Studies show diet-related worksite health promotion interventions can improve productivity by 2 percent and up to 20 percent.

About the Author

Rosie Gonzalez, MS, RD, LD is a product manager and nutrition and health science specialist at HealthFitness, a provider of health management, corporate fitness and condition management solutions. She brings more than 20 years of experience as a registered and licensed dietitian in the health industry.

Learn more about improving nutrition at the worksite. Learn how to evaluate nutrition in the workplace and improve eating habits among employees. Visit HealthFitness' programs and services for the right solutions for your organization.

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