HEALTHY WORKSTYLES : Food For Thought – And Productivity

We all know the link between good diet and healthy body, but did you realise the link between what person eats and the job they do at work? Here’s something to chew over as you reach for another chocolate biscuit from the office stash…
According to an International Labour Office global report, poor diet at work can contribute to loss in productivity of up to 20 percent. The report also states that poor nutrition is tied to absenteeism, sickness, low morale and higher rates of accidents.
When you think about it, it makes sense – after all, food is the fuel that powers production; calories = energy.
Skipping meals can lead to hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, which can shorten attention spans and slow the speed at which person can process information. Iron deficiency is also an issue, and the World Health Organisation has warned that as much as 30 percent impairment in physical work capacity and performance is reported in iron-deficient men and women.
Eating too much of the wrong food is also detrimental. According to the Labour Office global report, obese workers are twice as likely as fit workers to be absent from work.
However, while some workplaces are making an effort to provide staff with access to healthier food choices, many employers do not realise how important the workplace can be in encouraging good eating habits. In fact, we often hear that person’s place of work can be hindrance to proper nutrition. So, are employers missing an opportunity by failing to provide their workforce with nourishing food, or at the very least convenient access to healthier food choices?
Think about your workplace and the meals and snacks available to employees – if any? Do you have healthy options including fruit, rice crackers and hummus? Or, is the snack of choice at your workplace out of vending machine or snack box? If you have canteen, does it offer an array of healthy and nutritious food?
It is something worth bearing in mind, as in addition to productivity gains, we need to be thinking about the longer term implications of diet on the health of our workers. On wider level our own Ministry of Health (MOH) states that 40 percent of deaths each year (approximately 11,000 annually) are due to nutrition-related risk factors including:
• high cholesterol (reflecting mainly saturated fat intake)
• high blood pressure (reflecting range of factors including high salt intake)
• obesity
• inadequate vegetable and fruit intake.
According to the MOH, the joint effects of diet (this includes cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI and vegetable and fruit consumption) rank first among the top 20 causes of death by risk factor.
The MOH has collated clear nutrition guidelines for adults, as follows.
1. Maintain healthy body weight by eating well and taking at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
2. Eat well by including variety of nutritious foods from each of the four major food groups each day:
• plenty of vegetables and fruits
• plenty of breads and cereals, preferably wholegrain
• milk and milk products, preferably reduced or low fat options
• lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or alternatives.
3. Prepare foods, or choose pre-prepared foods, drinks and snacks, that:
• have minimal added fat, especially saturated fat
• are low in salt
• have little added sugar.
4. Drink plenty of liquids each day, especially water.
5. If choosing to drink alcohol, limit your intake.
6. Purchase, prepare, cook and store food to ensure food safety.
Most people already know what having good diet actually requires – sticking to it seems to be the problem.

Common food pitfalls
1. Old habits die hard. The difficulty people seem to have is consistently working these dietary needs into their daily routines. Today’s modern lifestyle means it can be struggle to afford, organise, and prepare fresh ingredients for regular mealtimes. The reality is that if the food you eat is important to you, then you need to make it priority. Remember that your diet does not have to be complicated – it can be very simple.
2. Food labelling. Assuming you already make healthy food choices is common mistake. Learn to understand food labels. For example, labels or food packaging claiming “high fibre” – you cannot just assume the food is healthy because of this. How about “fat-free”? This product may still have lots of sugar and calories. Likewise “low salt” does not mean the food is salt-free or that the product contains less than the recommended daily intake of salt. If you are serious about nutrition, you need to be able to understand food labels and marketing.
3. Reliance on processed foods.
The less processed food is and the closer to its natural form, the better. Try to eat unprocessed or low-processed foods wherever possible. Fruit juice is good example – while it tastes good and is nutritious, it does not deliver the full nutritional benefits that eating the whole fruit would. As result you will not feel as full as you would if you ate the whole fruit, and you also miss out on an important source of fibre.

Simple tips for better food in 2010
• Keep it simple – food was never meant to be difficult.
• Preparation is key – be organised and make it priority.
• Fresh and colourful fruit and vegetables have high nutritional content.
• Routine – try regular snacks such as nuts, dates and prunes during the day or try to eat more for breakfast and lunch rather than at dinner or late at night.
• Exercise is the other cornerstone to balance dietary intake.

How employers can help
Consider providing:
• Diet and nutritional advice online in your workplace health policy (eg,
• Healthy food choices in onsite vending machines, or forming partnerships with local food vendors to promote cheaper healthy food.
• Free fruit, vegetables or other healthy snack options for staff.
• Regular healthy food challenges to help educate, encourage and reward good eating habits.

Environmental factors such as diet do play an increasingly important role, in both performance on the job, and health outcomes. Heart disease, obesity and diabetes are all significantly influenced by the food we eat. These conditions pose obvious problems for those affected but also for their employers in terms of productivity and absenteeism. Food is the basic energy source for all daily functions – make it priority for your family and workplace in 2010.

Peter Tynan is chief executive, Southern Cross Insurance. This article was written with input from Troy Dandy, workplace health consultant and chiropractor.

• For further information on nutrition guidelines see the MOH website –
• For detailed information on Recommended Dietary Intakes see the MOH website – values

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