August 19, 2015

CK Featured White Paper

From The Break Room to the Board Room: How Food Selection Supports Corporate Wellness and Generates a Positive ROI

Background: Obesity is rampant in the U.S. workforce.

During the past 30 years, employers have shown an increased emphasis on employee wellness at work. At the same time, the rate of Americans who are classified as obese has increased. Recent data from a Center of Disease Control (CDC) report reveals more than one third (34.9%) of American adults are obese (Ogden, 2014). While there are many explanations why this trend is rising, there is no doubt that the sedentary lifestyle associated with many jobs, as well as poor nutritional habits, have contributed to the gain.

With obesity and poor nutrition comes an onslaught of additional health problems including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Many common cancers
  • Gallbladder disease and gallstones
  • Breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma (USDA & USHHS, 2010) (Heinen & Darling, 2009) (Mhurchi, Aston, & Jebb, 2010).

The workplace is to adults what school is to children. It is where they spend the majority of waking hours. Many employees will eat two meals at work or while commuting to work, plus snacks. While some large companies have on-site cafeterias, nearly all small and medium businesses and many large businesses have vending machines. While there have been advances in vending machine technology, most still vend canned soda and shelf-stable snacks such as chips and candy.


The Problem: An Unhealthy Workforce Effects More Than Just the Individual

Obviously, an unhealthy workforce causes absenteeism. It also is the cause of a concept called “presenteeism”- employees showing up to work while sick, creating a health risk to the rest of the workplace (Heinen & Darling, 2009). Beyond these effects, researchers have identified the following negative outcomes associated with an unhealthy workforce:

  • 3x increase in back pain
  • 2x-3x increase in conflicts
  • 2x-3x increase in mental health problems
  • 2x-3x increase in injuries at work
  • 2x increase in substance abuse (Burton, 2008)

All of these lead to increases in turnover, accidents, litigation and depression. Ultimately, this causes a decrease in productivity for the company and an increase in costs, both work-related and medical.

The numbers are obvious – employees with unhealthy lifestyles cost companies much more. Sedentary, overweight, smoking and alcohol-consuming employees are absent more than 50% more often and cost two to three times more in health costs than their counterparts who are active, not overweight, and do not smoke or drink (Burton, 2008). Smokers alone cost their company $2,500 per year in increased costs. There is a linear relationship between obesity and the number of workers’ compensation claims, lost workdays, medical claims, and indemnity claims cost (Burton, 2008).


The Solution: Effective Employee Wellness Programs

In an attempt to increase employees’ health and well-being as well as reduce costs, companies have started wellness programs to promote a healthy lifestyle for their employees. However, research has found five recurring factors in programs that are successful at reducing health care costs (Linnen et al, 2008) (Goetzel, Allen, & Edington, 2007).

Program Links to related Employee Services – According to Fortune Magazine, “Linkages between a company’s wellness program and other company benefits like employee assistance programs (EAPs) are key to making it easier for employees to get support when they are in a difficult emotional or physical situation that affects both their health and their work. EAPs connect employees to counselors who can advise them confidentially on issues from emotional distress to a difficult medical diagnosis to personal or work relationship issues. When EAPs and other support systems are in place, said Linnan [author of Results of the 2004 National Worksite health Promotion Survey], “people know they’re cared about and they also know that the default option for them when they’re at work is to be healthy.” (Rossi, 2015)

Worksite Screening and Adequate Treatment and Follow UpCompanies that do onsite screenings are able to get aggregate health data and develop programs around the issues that would benefit their employees most. Plus, individual employees get regular insight to the most common factors tested – cholesterol, weight, BMI, etc. If a certain area needs to be addressed, that issue can be tracked over time and the individual held accountable. In order to encourage a high participation rate, companies often incentivize participation in this program by offering an extra day of vacation, contributing to a flexible spending account or reducing the monthly premium.

Health Education is Present, Practical, and Accessible – This category includes skill development and lifestyle behavior change. Company weight loss groups, walking clubs, yoga classes, stress management seminars, smoking cessation groups, cooking classes and even recipe exchanges count as health education. As mentioned above, specific well-being messages that are targeted to individuals are most effective.

Integration of Health Promotion into the Company’s Culture – For a wellness program to be truly successful, it needs to be more than just a cost-saving effort. It must be deeply entrenched into the company’s fiber. Wellness must interact seamlessly with human resources, workplace safety, benefits, and other infrastructure elements. Wellness involves all employees across all departments and locations. It is as essential as marketing or R&D. If one day employees receive a memo mandating a health screening, it may be resented. But if healthy eating and active lifestyle are encouraged throughout the year, employees will be more willing to take a screening to help themselves and their company.

The Work Environment is Health-Conscious – Actions and statements the company makes can make a difference on individual behavior (Heinen & Darling, 2009). Therefore actions and incentives that are championed at work help change individuals’ behavior both at work and beyond. Company-sponsored gym memberships or workout facilities are one example. Providing access to fresh and healthy food is the most common way to make the environment health conscious. Mhurchu, Aston, & Jebb have found that not only is availability an effective away to increase health, but subsidizing healthier foods can lead to a change in purchasing behavior. Favorable effects have been seen for weight loss, purchase of low-fat snacks, and self-reported fruit and vegetable consumption (2010).


Benefits Show Significant ROI and More…

Companies with successful wellness programs have seen a significant return on their initial investment since its implementation. While numbers vary from company to company and individual reports range from 2:1 to more than 10:1 savings, a 2010 report from Harvard University found the average medical savings per dollar invested in wellness programs was $3.27. In addition, absenteeism costs fell by about $2.73 for every dollar spent (Goetzel & Ozminkowski, 2008) (Anderson, 2013) (Baicker, Cutler, & Song, 2010). Moreover, these savings do not take years to realize. Cost savings began accumulating in as little as one year, especially for individuals with chronic conditions (Nyce et al, 2012).

In addition to lower medical costs and increased attendance, employees generally feel better while at work and at home.  Done Nutrition Institute implemented a wellness program consisting of free fruit, updated dining options and facilities, walking and fitness groups, education, and subsidies for healthier foods at their café. Nearly 80% of survey respondents reported ordering healthier food that they had never eaten before, and nearly 2/3 felt that the change had a positive impact on their health and diet (Dole, 2002).


Company Kitchen – The No Cost Solution for Company Wellness!

Company Kitchen (CK) is an example of a way to provide healthier options at work with wellness resources for individual employees, and for HR and wellness professionals. CK is a revolutionary, self-serve micro market employees can access 24/7 at work for fresh food, snacks and beverages. It replaces traditional vending machines with an open market where employees can touch and inspect each item before purchasing it. Employees no longer only have access to junk food at work. Each Company Kitchen is stocked with fresh-made sandwiches, crisp salads, savory wraps, fresh fruit and vegetables snacks, wholesome dairy products and more. In a SHRM poll, 97% of respondents indicated their employees either “favorably” or “very favorably” responded to efforts to promote wholesome food and drink options at work (2010).

Company Kitchen’s proprietary DNA (Daily Nutritional Analysis) program is loaded with the nutritional information for every item in the market. With each purchase, the item’s nutritional information is downloaded to the employee’s online account.  S/he can then view aggregate nutritional information for specific timeframes as well as set thresholds and alerts to notify her/him if they have been exceeded.

Additionally, with the CK Client Portal, employers can track their employees’ nutritional behavior over time. All items are classified as green, yellow or red (healthiest, healthier, not healthy) and transaction data is available in real-time. Employers can immediately see if their initiatives are working or not. Plus, they can reward employees by adding funds to their CK account to subsidize healthier items directly through the CK Client Portal. For more information about getting a Company Kitchen at your office, please visit



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