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Integrating nutrition into corporate wellness can pay off

Plus: How to avoid the infamous afternoon crash


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What’s the first thing you think of when somebody mentions corporate wellness? Company-sponsored basketball games and 5K runs probably register, along with on-site gyms. That’s because corporate wellness programming typically focuses on fitness and preventive screenings. According to a RAND Employer Survey of companies with 50-plus employees, more than half of the employers polled offered workplace wellness programs. Only 49 percent of those companies incorporated weight or obesity management into their programming — but that didn’t matter much, because a measly 10 percent of eligible employees elected to participate in nutrition-based programs.

“Proper nutrition is an important factor in employee well-being,” says Jessica Crandall, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator for Denver Wellness and Nutrition, a Sodexo imprint partnering with dozens of hospitals and corporations to provide on-site nutrition services.

According to Crandall, one of the biggest risk factors for employers is cardiovascular disease. She isn’t kidding. The American Heart Association estimates that heart disease costs alone will triple by 2030. Heart disease – along with diabetes, obesity and depression – can be prevented through diet and nutrition, Crandall says, adding that healthy, happy employees spend less on medical care, take fewer sick days and are more productive on the clock, too. But establishing a robust nutrition program is only half of the battle. Getting staff members to sign on can be a serious hurdle.

Anecdotal evidence shows that employees are more likely to participate in corporate wellness programs when they’re fun. That’s why some local companies have begun engaging their work force with wellness challenges. Otter Products, for example, has been running its annual nutrition and fitness “Lifestyle Challenge” in Fort Collins since 2013, and currently boasts a 45 percent employee participation rate.

“Long-term health is achieved through community,” says Caleb Sommer, co-owner of Project Rise Fitness in Denver. “There are plenty of communities in life, and the work community is one.” He and business partner Ericka Holcomb collaborate with companies such as Marrick Medical and Swedish Medical Center to host wellness challenges that highlight nutrition and fitness as teams of employees work together toward measurable goals during month-long competitions that promote healthy habits while creating a unique opportunity for teambuilding. The model has been successful for Sommer’s clients and their employees.

“When an employer provides nutrition programming, employees feel like their employers care about their health, and that translates to better engagement,” Sommer says. That might be the biggest benefit of all. Gallup research shows companies with engaged work forces have higher productivity, higher customer ratings, and higher earnings per share.

HEALTHY WORKPLACE HABITS

Avoid the infamous afternoon crash with these nutrition tips:

  • “Get junk food off of your desk — period,” Crandall says.
  • Watch your carbohydrate intake. At lunch, trade your sandwich for a wrap or salad packed with lean protein and vegetables.
  • Sommer recommends eating two-thirds of your lunch at noon and saving the remaining portion for 1 p.m., which might increase afternoon productivity by up to 15 percent.
  • Pack an afternoon snack. “Most Americans skip that,” Crandall says. Noshing on fiber and protein helps alleviate mental fogginess.
  • Stay hydrated. Studies show that as little as 2 percent weight loss due to sweating can lead to a 25 percent decrease in productivity. 
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Jamie Siebrase

Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

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