Clarity in the Confusion of Corporate Wellness Programs

The topic of nutrition is confusing! New diets and products pop up daily. And now human resources directors are being charged with the daunting task of weeding through the nutrition confusion when overseeing corporate wellness programs. Luckily, there are pre-existing corporate wellness nutrition programs run by Registered Dietitians that HR personnel can turn to when implementing corporate wellness initiatives.

Why Nutrition in the Workplace and the Economic Impact
Employee health is impacted by a variety of things including physical activity, stress, tobacco use, etc. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, "Aside from not smoking, the most important determinants of good health are what we eat and how active we are." Nutrition plays a critical role in employee health. Therefore, effective corporate wellness programs must focus on nutrition.

Obesity certainly impacts the bottom line with obese employees taking 6-9 more sick days per year on average totaling to over 450 million more missed days per year than their healthier employees costing employers more than $150 billion in lost productivity according to a research article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, obese patients are not the only employees who can benefit from nutrition counseling. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for every $1 spent on nutrition counseling with a Registered Dietitian, $4 was saved! Additionally, subjects with type 2 diabetes who received nutrition counseling from a Registered Dietitian reduced their risk of work days lost by 64 percent and their risk of disability days by 87 percent according to another research article in the Journal. Everyone always has room to improve their nutritional status! Nutrition impacts numerous aspects of health including blood pressure, cholesterol, digestion, cancer, etc. Each employee can benefit from either using nutrition for existing disease management or, for healthy employees, to prevent and reduce the risk of disease.

The challenge facing many enterprises is to find cost effective solutions that are results oriented. Targeting employee nutrition is a great way for companies to reduce their healthcare costs and improve health outcomes without having to purchase tons of new equipment or construct a new gym in their facilities.

Nutrition Experts - Who to Turn To?
Would you trust your car mechanic to perform heart surgery? Would you trust your chiropractor to perform brain surgery on your child simply because he or she is also a healthcare practitioner? Should you allow the gym trainer with six pack abs to design a diet that is appropriate for someone with renal failure and a family history of heart disease? The answer is "NO" to all of the previous questions and the reason is because we acknowledge that there is a certain degree of specialization and schooling involved for each field. However, for much of the general public there is a lot of noise and a general cognitive disconnect on who should be providing counseling on food, diet, and nutrition. Because the wellness industry is rapidly growing, there is an overwhelming effort by new participants clamoring to jump into the industry and cash in despite limited knowledge or expertise.

HR and Benefits personnel never imagined they would be overseeing health programs when they went into the field. But as healthcare costs continued to rise, benefits personnel were left to figure out a solution to reduce insurance premiums. The answer was to improve employee health through corporate wellness programs. Most companies leave it to HR to oversee corporate wellness programs resulting in HR frantically sifting through unlimited piles of information trying to determine how to improve their employees' health and attempting to determine who really are the nutrition experts?

Corporate wellness nutrition programs that rely on Registered Dietitians tend to be the most evidence-based nutrition programs available. While the term "nutritionist" is used loosely, the credential of Registered Dietitian is closely regulated by the Commission on Dietetic Registration who requires strict adherence with specific academic course work, a college degree, a supervised internship program much like a doctor completes a residency, successfully completing the registration exam, and continuing education. In short, Registered Dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are Registered Dietitians similar to all CPAs being accountants but not all accountants are CPAs. The first step in ensuring wellness programs targeting nutrition will be successful is finding corporate wellness nutrition programs that rely solely on Registered Dietitians, the nutrition experts.

Turnkey Low Cost Wellness Solutions for Companies
In addition to decreasing healthcare costs, additional direct costs of funding corporate wellness programs can be reduced by partnering with Registered Dietitians. Registered Dietitians are recognized providers by most major insurance plans. As a result, company employees may be eligible to meet one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian for free or low cost if covered by their existing insurance plan! The employee benefits from the individualized nutrition counseling session from a nutrition expert and the company benefits from improved employee health and morale for little to no cost. Employers also love the fact that there is no new equipment to purchase and the process is often as simple as setting up a room for the registered dietitian to meet their employees one-on-one. It is a win-win for all involved.

The topic of nutrition is confusing but by collaborating with the right health professionals, HR personnel can find existing, evidence-based, and affordable corporate wellness nutrition solutions. Credentialed health professionals are willing and eager to support HR personnel in their unofficial role as corporate wellness coordinators. HR personnel can successfully oversee corporate wellness programs by acting as the moderator, rather than inventor of programs and still look like a corporate hero. By partnering with Registered Dietitians, HR personnel can help reduce their own stress, confusion, and anxiety in finding and implementing the right corporate wellness nutrition program.

J of the Acad. Of Nutr and Diet. 2012; 112 (1): 149-176.
Arch Intern Med. 2007; 167 (8): 766-73.