March means more than spring's arrival.
March ushers in the promise of spring whether any traces of snow remain or not. This third month of the year is also known on the Canadian health calendar as Nutrition Month.
In pursuit of a healthy bottomline.
With employees spending more than 1/3 of their lives at work or 60 percent of their waking hours per day in the office, it is no wonder that employers continue to look for ways to promote wellness through healthy eating in the workplace. Improved health and well-being can give a boost to productivity levels while driving up business performance. A myriad of studies show that healthy employees are 20 percent more productive than unhealthy ones. Additionally, employees who make proper dietary choices and focus on healthy weight management report fewer absences as well as short and long term disability claims.
Feed the gut, feed the brain.
Healthy eating also positively affects the brain. Since both the brain and body are made up of water, air and food, ensuring they are supplied with the right food is key. The body also has a second brain -- known as the gut-- where an entire nervous system exists. The gut and brain send messages back and forth to each other and when the gut isn't supplied with healthy ingredients, it can't send the right messages to the brain, thereby leaving it drained of what it needs to optimize its ability to focus and concentrate.
Brain food takes the form of protein, vegetables from all the colours of the rainbow, fish, as well as hemp, flaxseed, chia seeds. It's also important to avoid dips in blood sugar by eating brain food every 3 to 4 hours.
Feeding a healthy brain means increasing proteins and the key ingredients that fuel its neurotransmitters. The brain doesn't work well after the gut tries to digest non-nutritive, manufactured foods that have been altered through processing, starching and frying. Baked goods, sweeteners, too much caffeine, sugar, pop and alcohol also send the brain the wrong messages. They can make a person more anxious and may even lead to mental health issues such as depression.
What's in your vending machine?
Swap out the pop. Too often, it is easy to overlook what the workplace vending machines offers employees who seek a quick energy boost. The American Academy of Neurology reported that, aside from harming one's physical health, those who drank more than 4 cans of pop a day were 30 percent more likely to develop depression or other mental health problems.
Frequently stocked with a plethora of sugary soft drink choices, one of the easiest and best ways to influence healthy choices is by swapping out pop in the vending machines for water, fruit and/or vegetable juice (no added sugar), and carbonated water. These beverages offer employees an alternative free of calories, sugar and caffeine.
Fruit instead of candy bars. Those looking to help employees be happier at work may look no further than swapping out candy bars for fruit or offering free fruit in break rooms or beverage stations. Making it easy to choose a piece of fruit instead of something fattening from the vending machine not only is an important cancer prevention strategy, but for each fruit or veg portion eaten, there is a 40 percent greater level of protection against heart disease and stroke.
Employees who are healthier are also more productive. They promote a better culture and corporate image too. While making efforts to influence healthy eating at work is always a good thing, making the most of March as Nutrition Month provides ample opportunities to take advantage of many featured nutrition challenges. With so many resources at our fingertips, we're eager to share them with you and invite you to contact us. As always, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
It might come as no surprise that obesity rates in Canada are on the rise. What might be surprising is the rate of the increase. According to a study from Memorial University in St. John's, obesity rates have tripled, which represents a 200 per cent increase between 1985 and 2011. What's more, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) predicts that 21 per cent of Canadian adults will be obese by 2019.
In 2014, based on height and weight measurements, 20.2 per cent or 5.3 million Canadians aged 18 or older are classified as obese. According to Statistics Canada, almost two thirds of Canadian adults are considered overweight or obese and about 33% of children (ages 5 to 17) are considered overweight or obese.
What defines overweight and obese?
Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements are used to determine normal, overweight and obese classifications. Normal weight is represented by a BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9.
Overweight is a BMI range of 25 to 29.9 and obese is a BMI range of 30 or higher. (BMI is the measure of body fat based on height and weight.) In terms of the obesity spectrum, there are 3 classes: Class 1 is BMI 30 to 34.9, Class 2 is BMI 35 to 39.9 and Class 3 is BMI 40 or over.
In a report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology published in March 2016, they summarized the results of nearly 24 meetings where the committee heard expert testimony about the dramatic rise in overweight and obese Canadians. We are ranked 5th among 40 countries for obesity prevalence (measured at 25.4% of adults).
What is the cost of obesity?
Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and other conditions. As per the Associated Press, obesity costs Canada between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually.
What is the employer's role?
While there are programs across the country analyzing and working toward solutions to stem the rapid rise in obesity, employers are faced with the challenge of controlling health care costs and modifying insurance-related programs. They continue to look for ways to motivate the growing number of overweight and obese employees in their attempts to help their workforce adopt healthier lifestyle practices. Sitting disease (inactivity) and poor diet, nutrition and lack of regular exercise continue to work against their efforts.
Observations and considerations.
Between age 18 and 65, Canadian adults spend much of their lives at work and so the value of an employer's role in health promotion can't be overlooked. Often, the size of employer dictates the comprehensive nature of their wellness program and weight management initiatives. Smaller employers, which represent the majority in Canada (under 500 employees) don't generally have the complexity, choice or robustness of the largest public and private employers where there is a more consistent emphasis on weight management and health promotion.
1) Environmental factors: Employers can work against themselves in their efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and weight management. Food choices in vending machines, dining and catering options and an absence of access to free filtered water may provide mixed or contradictory messages. Looking at what is offered in the workplace is helpful. Is there access to a company fitness centre or healthy dinners-to-go? Healthy on-site catering, open stairwells, treadmills, walking paths, break rooms for stretching and meditation offer consistent messages that reinforce healthier choices.
2) Culture of Health: Establishing a top-down leadership campaign with visible participation and clear communications about available health and wellness programs is important. Additionally, identifying formal and informal wellness champions to leverage the social environment in the workplace can have a strong influence on health promotion.
3) Family outreach: Employers can benefit from casting a wider net with their health promotion efforts to include family members and children. This is often achieved through targeted communications that can be read by the entire family and are written in plain language particularly when English isn't the primary language spoken in the home. When a family commits to supporting loved ones in their efforts to improve their health and weight management, success rates increase.
It's clear that we have an issue with obesity in our country. Employers carry an alarming portion of the financial burden related to it. By taking a more strategic approach to wellness programs and an analysis of claims experience, employee education that intrinsically motivates employees can provide positive results for weight management and obesity prevention. If you have questions about this topic or what can be done to better manage your benefits program, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
March is known in Canada as Nutrition Month and organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians.ca are busy dialling up their annual campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of making informed food choices.
As employers look for new or different ways to improve engagement, workplace culture and productivity, it might be easy to overlook what employees are actually eating and how their daily food choices affect creativity, focus, energy levels, mood and overall well-being.
Nutrition contributes to a productive workday. In a journal shared on the site, Perspectives in Public Health, it was found that productivity increases by at least 2 percent when workers make healthier food choices and develop sound eating habits.
Employers looking to launch a worksite nutrition campaign can access free resources, videos, print-ready fact sheets, and presentations from the Dieticians.ca website.
Whether it be a lunchtime presentation or quick facts on a TV monitor or Intranet site, employers don't need to invest in expensive wellness campaigns in order to inform and educate. Positive messages reminding employees that making a few small changes or even one change a day will result in positive outcomes.
These tips can be as simple and reinforcing the importance of:
Create a nutritition savvy workplace.
Small changes in food choices can add up over time. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1/3 of North Americans are obese. The results of these finding show that there are growing incidents of diabetes and heart disease putting increased pressure on public health and private payers.
In an article published on the British Journal of Health Psychology website, the relationship between food and how it affects a person's daily experiences and mood is explored. Poor dietary habits are linked to fatigue, decreased mental effectiveness and ability to perform one's job effectively. Poor nutrition causes irritability, lower energy levels coupled with higher levels of stress and depression.
When the brain isn't nourished.
As employers are looking to understand why extended health costs are increasingly related to mental health issues as well as higher rates of disability, a closer examination of the connection to dietary decisions may be warranted. Eating processed foods not only results in mild irritability, but over time, the risk of depression and anxiety increases. Healthy food choices help to nourish the brain and fuel creativity and productivity.
In essence, every forkful of food not only affects how a person's body functions, but how the mind functions as well. Making healthy food choices can improve the ability to concentrate and solve problems more effectively.
Beyond helping employees manage time effectively and wrestle down growing project lists and unread email, the importance of nutrition and its connection to worker productivity and well-being shouldn't be overlooked. Contact us to learn more about our approach to healthcare analytics and how they can help you more effectively manage the cost of your benefits program and ensure you're getting the right results. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
In the last few years, there has been a growing number of fitness trackers and fitness apps filling the market and all designed to motivate and encourage healthier lifestyle choices through increased physical activity. The idea of rewards for activity, growing an online community, and the fun of gamification elements, reveal that wearable fitness tech has caught on like wildfire in the workplace and with consumers in general.
There was a time in the not so distant past when only athletes were able to access biometric data and technical equipment through advanced training centers to help them assess nutrition, body fat, sleep patterns and workout progress.
Today, wearable fitness tech is no longer expensive, unattainable or reserved for professional athletes. The research company, Tractica, predicts that more than 75 million devices will be deployed in the workplace by 2020.
There are so many apps and devices to provide us with helpful personal biometric data. Fitness Trackers and smart clothing interact with Smartphones and track workouts and progress through an accelerometer as well as monitor heart rate through a gyroscope. Many wearable fitness trackers also replace watches as they include a time telling feature.
Examples of fitness trackers include Apple Watch, Fitbit and Jawbone. They monitor sleep patterns, nutrition, activity levels, offer challenges, rewards and can make fitness fun. Smartwatches are quickly taking a leading position in the category of workplace wearables.
In addition, there are many free motivating audio apps to encourage fitness including Nike +, Training Club, Sworkit, FitStar Personal Trainer, Rockmyrun and PaceDJ. The last two, match music to your workout tempo.
Wearable fitness tech offers a huge boost to corporate wellness programs. Employers who offer voluntary campaigns or promotions that involve wearable tech gently encourage employees toward healthier lifestyles. In so doing, they are also positively nudging the needle toward greater productivity outcomes where healthier employees equal healthier bottomline results.
Companies like BP received a lot of attention for their "Million Step Challenge" as they partnered with StayWell and offered employees -- on a voluntary basis-- a free Fitbit tracker and with every million steps an employee walked, they earned 500 wellness points, which accounts for 50% of their annual target. There are other ways this campaign encouraged wellness, but the emphasis shows the influence of wearable fitness tech in the workplace as an embedded component of the company's wellness and benefits program.
What's ahead for wearable tech in the workplace?
As wearables become more accessible and commonplace, employers will increasingly look for ways to integrate them to improve morale and productivity. While big data has many upsides, there remains a realistic point of caution. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing so much data with an employer about their activity, sleep patterns and nutrition. Maintaining confidentiality and employee trust about the way data will be used -- if harvested through a company workplace program -- should be clearly identified and communicated to employees upfront.
Wearable fitness tech will continue to evolve, and it is clearly becoming an integral part of wellness initiatives for companies throughout the world. Understanding how to optimize the effectiveness of wearables to meet the needs of employees and employers will be an ongoing challenge.
Staying on top of the trends and discussing the implications for you and your company is something we're excited to do. Please contact us. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
March is National Nutrition Month and a great time to ramp up the importance of fostering a healthy lifestyle. It is an opportunity for more than wellness practitioners and dieticians to dial up a greater awareness of healthy eating for employees.
The old adage, "you are what you eat" remains true to this day. While it may seen like overkill or a commonplace reminder, the reality is that many Canadian adults don't meet the minimum servings recommended in Canada's Food Guide on a daily basis. Nutrition awareness campaigns, along with healthy eating reminders are not only helpful, but necessary.
Many employees spend a great deal of time sitting at work. Compound what is becoming coined as a sitting disease with poor dietary choices, and we increasingly see employees with reduced energy, distracted attention and growing health concerns, These contributing factors generate a costly emotional and physical toll on employees. In addition, employers feel the effects in terms of greater incidents of workplace illness and disability claims. The workplace therefore becomes an important place to promote healthy eating.
Many employers may approach March, or any other month for that matter, wondering where to start and how to begin promoting healthy eating and nutrition in the workplace. Fortunately, there are a number of useful and free resources available online. I've included a list of links and brief descriptions of each.
Tips for promoting March's Nutrition Month - check out the Dieticians of Canada website.
Healthy Eating at Work, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. A soup to nuts resource to guide employers in the development of a healthy eating program.
Healthy Eating in the Workplace Guide - prepared by the Nova Scotia Public Service Commission. This is a comprehensive guide with tools and activities for managers and wellness committees alike.
Healthy Eating Toolkit - a resource to help employees make better food choices.
Looking for ideas for healthy food choices in vending machines?
Healthy Eating - Heart and Stroke Foundation. Learn about the steps ensure a heart-healthy diet.
Good nutrition is an integral component of leading a healthy lifestyle. One's diet, along with moderate physical exercise for 40 minutes, 3 times per week, can help attain and maintain a healthy weight and prevent the risk of chronic disease. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that eating a healthy diet as well as exercising may lead to a better physique and that often triggers a boost in confidence and self-esteem.
Looking for additional resources to bolster healthy eating in your workplace and to promote better benefit plan results? Contact us, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.