Healthy Bites: Nutrition is the Missing Ingredient in Corporate Wellness Programs

By Michelle Lau

Incorporating nutrition into your corporate wellness program could have exponentially beneficial effects for your employees’ mental health and productivity.

With the effects of labor shortages becoming more and more visible in recent years in the Asia Pacific region, as Hong Kong hits record low unemployment rates, it is critical that corporations start early in implementing strategies to help attract, secure, and retain talent.

In recent years, Asia has seen increasing interest in the adoption of corporate wellness programs. Previously, these programs were adopted as a reaction to the growing preference for work-life balance, and seen as corporate social responsibility initiatives. As such, they usually featured discounted or subsidized gym memberships and recreational sporting leagues.

Since then, companies have adopted a more nuanced appreciation for corporate wellness programs, as they are seen as strategic approach to attracting top talent and driving business growth. Today’s more holistic wellness programs can include anything from employee wellness weeks with a range of activities to mental health support for employees.

However, many companies’ wellness programs focus on physical fitness, ranging from on-site fitness facilities, to group classes, to online fitness, yet they often overlook another key pillar of wellness – nutrition.

According to a citywide health survey by the HKSAR government, 50% of Hongkongers aged 15 or older are overweight or obese, and many are struggling with pre-diabetes. The need for better, more accessible nutrition education is evident.

I have outlined below four reasons – among many others – why employees are what they eat, and why offline-to-online nutrition programming should be top of mind for employers in providing wellness solutions.

Lower Medical Costs

Simply put, employers can’t afford to ignore the impact of heart disease, diabetes, liver disease on their healthcare premiums.

Lowering the risk factors for diabetes and heart disease alike requires more than just fitness programming: employers must provide integrated, dynamic, and engaging nutrition education content and support, so that employees think differently about how they eat each day.

To quantify the potential impact, we did a program with a global multinational company that included both on-site fitness and personalized nutrition last year. Over just twelve weeks, the average percentage decrease in cholesterol was 4%, average fat loss was 4 kg, and muscle mass increased by an average of 3 kg.

The results also showed a positive change (i.e. a decrease in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein “bad cholesterol”) in participants with lipid profiles characterized as “at risk,” which is a staggering number when companies consider the potential impact on claims data.

Nutrition benefits everyone, beyond the office

Employers now offer a wide range of solutions for wellness, but continue to struggle with how to engage the employees’ families in meaningful ways. As a result, poor nutrition habits are often fostered at home, leading to higher claims for the entire family.

Finding meaningful ways to engage with employees around nutrition can have a positive impact at home. For example, one of the executives at a finance institution we served said he always knew he should eat breakfast, but didn’t know how to create a quick, convenient, and healthy option, so he skipped breakfast altogether.

Empowered with new nutrition knowledge and practical tools to figure out what worked best for his lifestyle and health profile, he purchased healthy breakfast options, including whole-grain, low-sugar cereal, low-fat yogurt, and fresh fruits for his family, the start of what we call “an upward spiral” in their home toward healthier habits.

Lower employee absenteeism and increase productivity

Eating well in the workplace can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being. Nutritious foods can improve concentration and cognitive function, boosting an employee’s work performance.

It is well documented that employee well-being leads to higher creativity and productivity, but fewer people may know that The World Health Organization (WHO) found that optimal nourishment can raise national productivity levels by 20%. Healthy employees are happier, more engaged, sleep better, and get sick less often.

Enhance organizational culture and spirit

Stocking the office with healthy food means eliminating the guesswork and saving employees the time to search for affordable, fast, and nutritious lunches. Employees are often time-poor and lack the motivation to give a second thought to healthy eating on top of all of their pressing work duties and responsibilities. Providing them with options such as fresh fruits and healthy snacks at the office can help to alleviate this issue.

Some companies we have worked with even provide free healthier lunch services once or twice a week, or supply healthy beverages and food products free of charge so employees can gather and socialize, and enjoy healthier food options together.

Whether employees are working over 40-50 hours a week at the office or working from home, nutrition has the ability to transform their lives, increase their energy levels, benefit their performance, and improve their health.

As such, to create impactful corporate wellness programs, it’s imperative that companies consider integrating nutrition education and support alongside fitness, maximizing each individual’s ability to make sustainable changes to their overall health, and ultimately driving the company’s success.

About the Author

Michelle is a Registered Dietitian (MSc.), nutrition educator, media personality, and the founder of NUTRILICIOUS, a B2B nutrition consultancy and communications company that aspires to inspire millions across Asia to eat their way to healthier and happier lives. Michelle and her team passionately motivate all audiences to Eat Whole, Train Smart, Live Full and deliver science-based nutrition information in fun and “digestible” ways. As an avid runner and obsessive home baker, she appreciates and prioritizes balance in all areas of life. “Change the world, One bite at a time.

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