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Diet and Nutrition

Worksite Wellness: Access to Healthy Foods & Physical Activity

Why is it important for employers to provide access to healthy foods and physical activity?

Employers are facing critical challenges in relation to spiraling costs for healthcare, with obesity and chronic diseases playing a huge role in these mounting costs. Therefore, it is beneficial for companies to promote healthy lifestyle habits among their workers.

The worksite is an ideal setting for providing health information and access to nutritious foods and physical activity. A healthconscious culture at the worksite can support employees? efforts to adopt healthy behaviors.

What are the healthiest options in vending machines?

Did you know that eating healthy snacks throughout the day can increase your nutrient intake and control overeating at meals?

Check out the Nutrition Facts on product labels and select foods that are lower in sugar, salt, fat, and calories (preferably less than 200 calories). Choose trail mix, pretzels, dried fruit, granola bars, or low-fat popcorn instead of cookies, candy, or chips. Healthier beverage options include low-fat or skim milk, 100% fruit/vegetable juice, and bottled water.

Can employers provide healthy meeting foods?

Buffet-style or boxed meals can easily include nutrient-dense foods. Breakfast meetings might provide fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, mini-muffins, and small bagels with low-fat spreads. Mid-day meetings can offer salads with mixed greens and low-fat dressing, whole grain breads, baked or grilled meat/poultry/fish and fresh fruit cups. Vegetarian entrees (such as vegetable/hummus pita pockets) and a variety of healthy beverages should also be available.

Can brown bag lunches be healthy alternatives to meals from vending machines, cafeterias, and nearby restaurants? Brown bag lunches can be appetizing, nutritious, and cost-saving, especially if refrigerators and microwaves are available at the worksite.

Vary your sandwiches with whole wheat pitas, tortillas, or English muffins; crunchy, tasty vegetables; and flavored mustard, pesto, or sundried-tomato paste. Soups, low-fat chili, and leftovers from last night?s dinner can be especially tasty on cold days.

Don?t forget to pack healthy snacks, such as fresh vegetables with salsa, low-fat dressing, or peanut butter for dipping ? you will be less tempted by the calorie-laden doughnuts and candies in the break room!

What type of physical activity can be promoted in the workplace?

Physical activity can help to relieve stress, increase energy, retain lean body mass, and improve cardiovascular health. Employers can provide well-lit stairwells and safe walking paths, with indicators of distance. In addition, they can organize walking clubs, intramural sports, and physical activity classes, such as tai chi and yoga. Signage can prompt employees to take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk to colleagues? offices rather than telephoning; and engage in ?deskercise? (e.g., back stretches, neck rolls, leg extensions, and abdominal twists).

This article originally appeared in Nutri-bytes (May 2010), a service of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Oct 11, 2010

Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD
Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati