Food for thought: Nutrition programs spike employee productivity

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Proper nutrition may be on the back burner this time of year, but encouraging healthy eating can boost employee performance and reduce absenteeism.

While 85% of Americans say their eating habits have changed due to the pandemic, just 22% reported eating healthier, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council. One-third of Americans say they are snacking more, and 47% say they are eating more sweets.

Read more: Meal program provides healthy lunches to remote workers

“How can we get employees to make better choices and empower them to take better care of themselves?” says Marcus Gners, co-founder of Lifesum, a digital nutrition app. “When it comes to health benefits, it’s about providing employees with the right tools to be productive and live better lives.”

Promoting good health will not only lead to healthier employees, but more money saved: for every dollar spent on an employer-sponsored wellness program, businesses saved $3 in healthcare costs per employee, according to a report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Gners’ platform, LifeSum, provides employer clients, including GE, with individualized nutrition programs. Users are given customized meal plans and access to tracking tools. Lifesum research found that users lost an average of 11 pounds over the course of 12 weeks and reported a 25% increase in workplace productivity.

Read more: American Eagle employees drop 1,000 pounds to fight diabetes

Gners shared his thoughts on the importance of incorporating nutrition into telemedicine offerings and how COVID-19 has impacted employee habits in a one-on-one interview.

How has COVID-19 impacted employee nutrition?

We're in a strange state right now. Before, an employer could gather people together for a meal or provide snacks and have a sense of control over the supply that’s offered. Whereas now, since people are working from home, they’re responsible for their own lives. Through food, people have a sense of control over their lives, and we have seen positive progress during the pandemic.

With COVID and so much uncertainty, controlling how you eat gives users a certain level of comfort, and has also accelerated the digitization of health. Digital products like ours can be personalized and tailored to figure out the best way for them to live and what are the best choices for them.

Why should employers take on the responsibility of educating people about the benefits of nutrition?

When it comes to health benefits, it's providing employees with the right tools to be productive and live better lives. It's not enough for a company to make a poster that says you should eat more vegetables. Companies should understand that nutrition is connected to stress and obesity, which are massive drivers of costs, both in terms of loss of productivity, but also for cost of health insurance. This opens up the opportunity for employers to actually approach bad nutrition and bad lifestyle as a way to empower employees to take better care of themselves so they don’t become victims of trickle-down diseases like diabetes or hypertension.

How does technology play a role in changing habits and promoting a healthier lifestyle?

Health products have a tendency of increasing the stigmatization of the problem and amplifying shame. Health is difficult, nutrition is difficult, weight is difficult. We come from the approach of, how can we destigmatize this through our design and user experience, to make the user proud of taking steps toward a more positive life.

[With Lifesum], the user can come in and they can tailor the product depending on if they want to lose weight, maintain and find a healthy balance or gain weight. The technology figures out micro and macro nutrients to suggest a plan, like a ketogenic diet, a high protein diet, clean eating — we’re a platform where you can experiment and find different programs to see what suits you. It’s not about telling you what to eat, but teaching through experience. What are good choices for you? You become smarter and stick to them. Technology drives your motivations because it helps you keep score of how you’re progressing.

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