We are all well aware that poor diet is a contributing factor to chronic disease. Lifestyle and dietary changes can help prevent up to 75% of chronic diseases, including the major contributors here in Newfoundland and Labrador, like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Chronic disease is not only a burden to the individual living with it, but it can create a financial burden for families and workplaces as well. Medical expenses and increased work-related costs associated with disability, sick leave, decreased productivity and insurance, are a few of those increased costs. In the workplace, chronic disease of employees has been associated with increased absenteeism, reduced employee performance, increased injury, as well as increased prescription drug and medical costs.
Nutrition interventions in the workplace can work to improve health outcomes. That said, eating at work can be challenging. Workplaces can present many hurdles to eating well such as frequent celebrations like birthdays and retirements, food-filled meetings, after work cocktails, Friday fast food lunches and common area treats (Who hasn’t thought to bring the extra cake/pie/box of chocolates into work to get rid of the ‘extras’?). It’s no surprise that research shows when treat-type foods are close by at work, people are more likely to eat them. Plentiful, tempting treats in plain sight, coupled with an environment of colleagues enjoying them, creates a tasty situation that’s hard for even the most diligent of healthy eating enthusiasts to resist, myself included.
So what’s a workplace to do? Make a company commitment to make healthy eating a priority, while enlisting the help of a registered dietitian. Dietitians use food as medicine and specialize in working with individuals and groups to improve eating habits and address nutritional needs to improve health outcomes. In fact, it’s been shown that structured dietitian-led interventions can make a difference to health by helping to reduce the risk of those above mentioned chronic diseases. To be exact, reducing the risk to develop type 2 diabetes by up to 60%, lowering heart disease risk by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels by up to 10%, and improving healthy eating behaviours to increase vegetable, fruit and fibre intake and decrease fat intake. Working with dietitians can also help to create healthier workplaces by helping companies cut costs on employee health insurance plans by over 34%, decrease disability days by 87%, and reduce health-related lost productivity by 64%.
March is national nutrition month, and no better time to get focused on improving food choices from 9-5. Interested in making your workplace a healthier one? Advocate for healthy eating environments that include supports such as wellness events like lunch n’ learns, health fairs and contests, or nutrition counselling (does your workplace insurance cover this benefit? If not, ask for it!). Host healthier choices in workplace cafeterias and vending machines. Serve better food choices at meetings and work related events. Get a group together to organize a healthy lunch club and share recipes. Ask for adequate eating places and enough time to eat or take an activity break (as we know sitting is the new smoking, so it’s equally important to be active and eat well!).
If you are interested in getting your hands on some complimentary nutrition month handouts with information on healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for your workplace just drop me an email at email@example.com. For more ideas on making your workplace a healthier one, you can also follow me on twitter @DietitianRecipe for fresh ideas every day in March.
Amanda Burton, MSc, RD is a registered dietitian with Recipe for Health, a nutrition counselling and consulting practice in St. John’s. For more information on the services we provide visit www.recipeforhealth.ca. Registered dietitian services are frequently covered through private healthcare insurances.