Nutrition education resources, increased selection of healthy options, and consumer desire to learn are greater than ever, according to Amanda Carlson-Phillips, vice president of nutrition and research at EXOS. That’s what employers must keep in mind as they map out corporate wellness plans, where they have a unique opportunity to create food environments catered to their employees and connected to the company’s strategic goals.
These five trends will help savvy companies provide the right nutritional guidance to stay competitive as an employer and make employees feel more supported, healthier, and more productive.
Companies will create their own “food brand.”
Rather than following along with the masses, forward-thinking organizations are putting serious thought into what Carlson-Phillips calls a company’s “food brand.” You have a marketing strategy, she says, and you should have a tactical plan around what employees have access to eat, too. “If organizations really want to make a difference, they have to think about food strategically versus just as a cafeteria with a lunch lady in a hairnet.” What companies place in their programs can help shape the way employees think about food, and how this promotes healthy eating in the workplace.
To develop a food brand, Carlson-Phillips recommends thinking about nutrition the same way as any other business priority. Ask yourself: Why is this important? What does food look like in our organization? How can the food we provide support the ability of our employees to achieve our business strategy?
“Work as a collaborative team to define what your food brand should be and the standards you’ll follow, then pull together your vendors to bring that to life,” she says.
Weight loss will take a back seat to overall well-being.
People are thinking differently about food relative to a decade or even a few years ago. Why the shift to thinking beyond the conventional weight measurements? Employees are becoming more aware of the holistic benefits of food. These benefits include how it plays into vitality, performance, and well-being. They’re thinking less about weight loss and more about how food can make them feel better.
“In the past, when people thought about nutrition, it was always ‘How do we help people lose weight?’” she says. “I think we’re on the verge of being at the end of the diet era. Diets are made for the masses, and now you can eat for yourself.” Even doctors are learning to look beyond the scale to help patients improve health when it comes to recommending exercise for their patients.
Personalized data will lead the way to healthier habits.
Rather than treating all employees’ nutritional needs as the same, employers should have their eyes on personalized nutrition in the coming year, according to EXOS registered dietitians Shannon Ehrhardt, M.S., and Jana Mason, M.S. What does that mean exactly? “It’s eating based on what your body and genes need at the cellular level,” Erhardt explains. Nutrition for health, rather than fads developed by influencers, should be the core focus for each individual. No two people are the same, so having a personalized plan should make all the difference for their long-term well-being.
Carlson-Phillips points to a handful of direct-to-consumer companies she says are “unlocking information” that can make a huge dietary and health impact. Helix helps people understand their genomes, while Habit maps out individual metabolic profiles using blood, genome, and anthropometric data. EverlyWell and WellnessFX offer performance blood tests that let employees learn about disease risk, metabolism markers, and more. “The availability of data is more and more in the hands of the consumer,” Carlson-Phillips says. Previously, these data points were only available to doctors. Now, consumers are using the tools to figure out the best nutrition plan for them.
Personalized nutrition — and the data that comes with it — is something companies should take advantage of this year. While larger companies can control their environment, smaller businesses may feel less power to help create change. “But both of those groups can work to empower the individual employee,” Carlson-Phillips says. “All employers can use this trend to help individuals learn about their body, so they can make more informed choices about what they eat.”
Supporting employees will be a priority.
Carlson-Phillips and Mason believe people are getting ready to let go of diets du jour. Your employees are starting to think for themselves about what style of eating works best for them — whether that’s intermittent fasting, avoiding diary, or eating whole foods. And data is going to fuel those trials and decisions. “Having more information about yourself through diagnostic tools allows for smarter experimentation around how eating certain ways makes you feel,” Carlson-Phillips says.
How can employers support these experiments? “You don’t need to denote a station for each emerging nutritional trend,” Carlson-Phillips says. Instead, employers should be aware of how people are eating. That means working with an expert to stay up on the latest nutritional trends that have moved beyond fads and gone from emerging to mainstream so you’re able to meet your employees’ nutritional needs within the bounds of your food brand. Employees will feel supported, and more people will take advantage of your service.
Habits from blue zones will make their way to the workplace.
“Blue zones” are areas across the globe where residents are the healthiest, happiest, and live the longest, like Sardinia, Italy. Researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, and later National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, outlined what these people generally had in common, including moving naturally, minimal stress, eating until 80 percent full, and focusing on family.
By implementing these principles, areas like Fort Worth, Texas, and beach cities in California, have witnessed startling results. Fort Worth reported a 31 percent decrease in smoking in four years while some California schools saw childhood obesity rates cut in half since 2010.
It’s something that can also be modeled on a smaller scale. Companies and college campuses like University of Hawai’i and West Virginia University are reimagining what health can look like in a live, work, and play environment. Employers and college administrators are stepping up to make healthy choices the norm. “People are really considering the space you’re in,” Carlson-Phillips says. “It’s the air you breathe, the seats you sit on, the type of movement you get, and the food you put in your mouth.”
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