We spend the majority of our waking hours at work.
We are what we eat…We eat where we are
During the workday, we eat at least one meal and, often, a couple of snacks. Americans eat out about five times a week, with half of these meals at lunch. All the health education brochures in the world won’t get people to eat healthier if the only options available are deep-fried, highly-processed, or laden with fat, sugar, and salt. Healthy foods in the cafeteria, vending machines, and nearby restaurants would go a long way to support employees’ efforts to eat healthy.
Programs are even more successful when they include price incentives, such as subsidized salad bars; nutrition labeling; and meatless options. Taste tests and surveys are a great way to introduce new foods and build employee excitement.
Innovative strategies include starting a farmers’ market or farm stand on the premises, or making it easy for employees to pick up boxes of fresh produce by enrolling in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Some workplaces go the extra mile and set policies of:
- no candy on desks
- healthy food at meetings and conferences (fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fat and sugar limits)
- no food provided at meetings less than three hours
- water instead of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages
- healthier vending and procurement practices
The Three A’s: Attractive, Available, Affordable
Key to program success is making tasty and healthy foods attractive, available and affordable, while reducing the availability of unhealthy options.
Support employees’ attempts to eat healthy by making sure the food environment is in line with your workplace wellness promotion goals. This is part of what the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA) describes as Benchmark #6 Creating a Supportive Environment. Such “environmental interventions” go above and beyond health education to make sure that employees have the resources to act: policies, physical incentives, rewards and incentives that support their health decision-making.
According to WELCOA, involving employees in changing the workplace nutrition environment is critical. Include a variety of employees in your Workplace Wellness Committee. Seek input through surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, and staff meetings.
It is likely that many employees are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. A survey will generate data demonstrating how many employees have weight loss goals, and how much support there is for changes in the food environment. A survey will help your Workplace Wellness Committee set goals and select priorities. Such data will also prove to be persuasive in “bringing along” employees and managers who may be less enthusiastic about the changes.
Seeking continuous feedback, making adjustments as you learn what’s working and what could be improved, and posting positive comments from employees in newsletters, on the website, and on bulletin boards will also increase your changes of long-term success.
Healthier Workplaces Help Us All WorkWell
Worksites are a critical setting for addressing the chronic diseases that plague our community and increase healthcare costs. We can prevent and manage chronic diseases through proven programs and policies that help people quit tobacco, eat healthy, get more physical activity, and manage stress. A comprehensive approach that includes wellness education, healthcare incentives, and supportive workplace policies (such as healthy vending) is necessary for improving employee health, as well as employers’ bottom line.
Future installments will feature strategies to help employees quit tobacco, get more physical activity, and manage chronic diseases, as well as how to guide your workplace through the change process, using the WELCOA benchmarks.