March is National Nutrition Month, which means it’s the perfect time to help your employees make healthier food choices. Consider this your guide to understanding how employee nutrition affects your business and how you can help your staff make healthier lifestyle choices.
Why Employee Nutrition Is Important
Employee nutrition has a bigger impact on your business than you might realize. Food influences how your employees work: High-sugar foods like white bread, candy and sodas give boosts of energy, but that rush is followed by an exhausting crash. Even too much caffeine can interrupt sleep, leaving employees more tired during the day. Plus, in addition to the connection between good food and a strong immune system, simply being hungry — or worse, “hangry” — can decrease productivity.
But poor nutrition doesn’t stop there. Choosing the wrong foods can trigger or exacerbate health problems like diabetes and heart disease. From there, health conditions (and chronic conditions in particular) can lead to increased absences from work, impaired performance, hospitalizations and higher health care costs.
Good meal choices are more important now than ever, as Gallup reports that in 18 states, diabetes has been on the rise over the past decade, while obesity has been on the rise in 34.
The Current State of Food Literacy
There’s a lot that factors into what your employees decide to eat, but one obstacle standing in the way of strong employee nutrition is health literacy, the ability to understand and act on relevant health information — including the information that we use to choose the food we eat. Unfortunately, one 2016 study found that only 12 percent of U.S. adults had proficient health literacy.
It’s no wonder. There’s a wealth of information out there, but it can be hard to tell the good information — the kind that originates with objective studies — from the bad — the kind that comes with shaky statistics and outside agendas along for the ride. And even if your employees’ critical thinking and source investigation skills are on high alert, scientific advances and new developments in nutrition mean that they may be behind the curve, or just outright confused.
But food literacy involves more than knowledge: It also involves well-being, socialization and marketing, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Discussing the logic behind good nutrition might not be enough — any food literacy communications you put out need to work on several levels, pairing straightforward health messaging with easily actionable ideas. Offer employees easy-to-read materials, and remember that sometimes workday food choices come down to time, convenience and affordability.
How to Help Employees Make Healthier Food Choices
Workers spend a large part of their lives in the office. That’s why encouraging better nutrition at work can shift the way employees think about their food and encourage them to bring healthy lifestyle choices home.
You can start simply by offering healthy snack choices in the break room. Instead of just providing doughnuts and chips, offer fresh fruit, nuts and veggies. Place bottled water next to the soda cans that usually stock the refrigerator. Serve nutritious options during catered events. All of this will make it easy for your employees to make better meal choices. If you’re unsure of your food choices, get your employees involved. Ask your workforce to make healthy requests so you know what they like.
You can also tackle low food literacy in your office by educating your employees on the benefits of healthy eating and how to get started. This might take the form of brochures and links to new health-focused recipes in your employee newsletter, or it could be more hands-on. Make things fun by hosting a healthy recipe contest and offering the top winners a gift card, or set up a challenge where employees are rewarded for keeping a consistent food journal. Offering a workshop led by a nutritionist or hosting a healthy cooking class as a staff outing is a way to get your employees actively collaborating on alternatives to less healthy choices.
For National Nutrition Month, focus on developing sustainable food literacy and healthy food choice strategies at work. Remember, this isn’t meant to be a one-time event — developing a healthy workplace is a long-term goal, and this month can give you an opportunity to jump-start a shift in how your employees view their health.
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