Understanding how your employees' culture and community feed their nutritional choices
Have you ever smelled or tasted something that instantly transports you to a certain moment in your past? Our nutrition is baked in tradition and is the root of our cultures and customs. Whether we’re roasting a family recipe, eating a corn dog at the annual county fair, or delivering a casserole to a grieving friend, we use food to connect and honor moments in time. As a result, food can also be emotional and lead us to make poor nutritional choices.
There are two networks that can support your employees on their journey to health improvement: their family and the workplace. Whether meals happen in the car, on the sidelines, or at the table, families tend to eat together. Plus, your workplace can provide supportive opportunities – such as worksite health centers – to help them achieve their health goals.
To understand why we eat what we eat, consider these three factors: family, access to food, and food education. Marathon Health’s recent white paper, Moving Beyond Medicine, details how external health influencers - the social determinants of health - affect overall health and how worksite healthcare can address them. Your employees need to understand these factors to improve their nutrition, and ultimately, improve their health. Let’s dig in:
Family meal planning
My goal as a registered dietitian is to build realistic nutrition plans for my patients and their household. Recently, my patient sought guidance to manage his weight and pre-diabetic condition. Using motivational interviewing, my conversations were mindful of his wife’s role in meal preparation and their Hispanic family recipes. Together, we developed a nutrition plan at his worksite health center to take home and practice with his family. They switched from soda to seltzer, practiced portion control, and slowly introduced more vegetables into their traditional recipes. Within three months of our initial visit, my patient was able to go jogging with his children, lost 20 pounds, and was no longer pre-diabetic. The family improved their nutrition and their health – together.
Access to food
While your employees can choose their recipes, their access to ingredients may be limited. 2.3 million U.S. households live in food deserts meaning they’re located more than one mile from a supermarket and do not have a vehicle. When access to grocery stores is limited “residents of food deserts may rely more on convenience stores and fast food restaurants.”
Your employees’ job duties may also limit their ability to access healthy food. For instance, first responders and transportation workers may find good nutrition challenging because they work long shifts, lack refrigeration on the job, and manage unpredictable or mobile work environments. Worksite health centers often provide health education programming, but if healthy food is inaccessible, a dietitian’s guidance to “eat more vegetables” isn’t helpful. By partnering with my patients, I can understand their 24-hour day and personal health hurdles to ensure my guidance connects with their food reality.
Our ability to access healthy food varies from community to community, and so does our education. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that nutrition education can lead to healthier food choices and higher engagement to overcome nutrition challenges.
I host worksite food education classes and cooking demonstrations to boost your employees’ nutrition literacy. Instead of telling them to eat more calcium, I ask them about which kinds of foods contain calcium. Every appointment becomes a learning opportunity for both me and your employee to help move them closer to lasting health improvement.
Worksite healthcare grows healthy habits
Health improvement happens when people are supported by their community, at home and at work. The workplace is a convenient place to foster health improvement. From health promotion programming to preventative screenings, worksite healthcare providers’ care is rooted in community, access, and education. My mission is to help my patients learn healthy behaviors at their worksite health center that develop into healthy habits at home with their families.
Victoria Emmitt, RD, CPT, is a registered dietitian health coach at Marathon Health