But while the issue has been prominent in schools for several years, it is just beginning to move into the workplace. One reason is that along with reports indicating Americans are just getting fatter and fatter have come a stream of studies outlining the disease's associated health risks: diabetes, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and stroke, just to name a few. And the tab for treating all these various conditions can be costly.
According to the Washington Business Group on Health, obesity alone costs employers approximately $12.7 billion each year in health care costs, medications, paid sick leave and life insurance policies. Employers are increasingly eyeing these costs and choosing instead to implement programs that protect their employees' health now, in an attempt to stave off all those potential medical conditions and associated costs later.
In addition, promoting programs that protect the health of the workforce just makes sense. An organization with healthy employees means higher employee morale, a better ability to attract and retain key people, and a more alert and productive workforce. Healthy workers are happier and more satisfied and in turn are more efficient as well.
CORPORATE WELLNESS GROWS
For many companies, the answer has been to introduce company-wide wellness programs which bring a number of benefits: wellness programs reduce absenteeism, on-the-job injuries, workers' compensation costs, and disability-management costs. They can also help reduce insurance premiums, reduce employee turnover, reduce employee absenteeism, increase productivity, increase employee satisfaction and motivation, and generally create an enhanced quality of life for its employees, both on and off the job.
In addition, wellness programs can deliver tangible savings to the company. According to a recent article in The Chicago Tribune, Pitney-Bowes estimates a $3 return on every $1 investment in employee health. The company shares the savings with the workforce, too — employees who agree to a health screening each year and adhere to set components of a healthy lifestyle through the company's Health Care University program can cut as much as $200 off their insurance premiums for the following year.
Naturally, a key component of any corporate wellness program means offering employees a variety of "better-for-you" choices in their vending and foodservice programs.
National operators like Aramark, Sodexho USA and Compass Group recognized this trend several years ago and have all created their own versions of "better-for-you" programs. Aramark has its "Just4You" program designed to help customers identify, purchase and enjoy healthier snacks and beverages in the workplace. "Just4U for Vending" includes more than 150 products, including: foods lower in fat; foods and drinks lower in carbohydrates; foods and drinks lower in calories, such as fruit cups and reduced-calorie juices; bottled water; and 100 percent juices.
Sodexho USA introduced its "Your Health Your Way, On The Go" vending program in 2005, designed to improve workplace dining by offering a wider variety of healthy snacks and beverages in vending machines that adhere to strict nutrition guidelines. Snack options have 200 calories or less per serving, 35 percent of calories or less from fat, 360 mg or less of sodium, at least 1 gram of dietary fiber, are low in saturated fat and trans fat free.
Canteen introduced its "Balanced Choices" program in 2004, which features machines where 100 percent of the offerings are considered "better-for-you." In addition, the machines can include a computerized center where customers have access to nutrition information on the foods, snacks and beverages available for purchase.
"BETTER FOR YOU" PROGRAMS REQUIRE SOME CUSTOMIZATION
Just as these "better-for-you" programs are not all the same, different accounts will most likely want to structure different vending and foodservice programs based on the buying habits of their workforce.
Some companies might want a higher percentage of healthier choices; other companies might not have the internal support necessary to make such an ambitious plan financially feasible. The key is to be flexible and convey to your account that you are prepared to work toward achieving a program that works for them.