Employers increasingly serve up nutrition programs

OTTAWA, May 14, 2013 /CNW/ -Two-thirds of Canadian organizations responding to a Conference Board of Canada survey offer nutrition programs, but less than half measure the impact of their programs on employees and few organizations are aware of what their initiatives eat up in costs.

Obesity is perhaps the highest-profile issue affecting the health of Canadians. In 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that a quarter of Canadian adults were obese. In all, 62 per cent of adults were either overweight or obese.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Most nutrition programs are five years old or less.
  • Private sector organizations were more likely to offer programs - and to measure their effectiveness - than public sector organizations.
  • Most commonly, organizations spent $5,000 annually on workplace nutrition program, but expenditures ranged from zero to $50,000.
  • It is easier to fully engage employees in wellness initiatives—an active living challenge or healthy eating campaign—if they are interesting, fun, and build camaraderie.
  • Obesity issues and possible remedies figure prominently at The Conference Board of Canada's upcoming Western Summit on Sustainable Health.

"Employers have a role to play in supporting their employees on this very sensitive matter," said Louise Chénier, Research Associate. "Obesity is one of the most important risk factors for many chronic illnesses and conditions. Nutrition programs are a cost-effective way for employers to help employees have healthier diets, which lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases."

In December 2012, The Conference Board of Canada surveyed the members of its Leadership and Human Resources Executive Networks about details on the nutrition-related programs offered in their workplaces. Employers support healthy nutrition in four main ways, by providing: healthy food options, education, health and nutrition counselling, and company-wide wellness challenges.

Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of employers that responded to the survey reported that their organization actively supports healthy nutrition in the workplace and ensures that healthy food options are available to employees. Most of these programs had been implemented within the last five years.

The most common initiatives were healthy selections for the on-site cafeteria (52 per cent) and healthy options for on-site catered meetings (50 per cent). Healthy food selections for on-site vending machines are much less common among respondents - which can be a challenge for shift workers.

Yet, only 41 per cent of organizations with nutrition-related initiatives in their workplaces measure the impact, usually by participation and satisfaction of employees.

And just one-third of respondents were able to provide overall costs of their workplace nutrition programs. These initiatives typically accounted for 10 to 30 per cent of an organization's overall wellness budget. Most commonly, organizations spent $5,000 annually, but the expenditures ranged from zero to $50,000 per year.

The publication, Nutrition in the Workplace, includes case studies of TELUS, WorkSafeBC, Loblaw, Eli Lilly Canada, Canadian Pacific, Total E & P and the City of Brandon. It is available at www.e-library.ca.

Obesity issues and possible remedies figure prominently at The Conference Board of Canada's Western Summit on Sustainable Health, being held at The Westin, Edmonton on May 22-23.

On Tuesday, May 22, a special evening debate will consider the motion: Canada Should Tax "Unhealthy" Foods. Four experts - two per side - will face off in a lively discussion, with the audience to vote on which side has made the best case. The next day, Wednesday, May 23, a panel discussion at the Summit will address Complex Problems: Fighting Obesity and Chronic Disease.

SOURCE Conference Board of Canada



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