Junk food: The ever- present temptation

Inexpensive, non-perishable, unhealthy

You probably work tirelessly to promote healthy eating, yet in the vast majority of workplaces, bowls of candy and donut boxes seem to be everywhere.

"Junk food is inexpensive, virtually non-perishable, and quick to consume," says Barbara Klinner, RN, BSN, CCM, LNC, CWC, director of business services at Marshfield (WI) Clinic. "In addition to that, it's tasty!"

Employees are reluctant to replace junk food with healthy choices that may be more expensive, perishable, and might require utensils to eat.

"The abundance of candy, donuts and junk food is not unique to the workplace," notes Klinner. "Schools are also struggling with instituting healthy initiatives."

The problem carries over into adulthood and subsequently, the work environment.

Vicki Sexton, RN, manager of human resources and occupational health at Shaw Industries in Dalton, GA, reports that the company hasn't had much success with adding healthy foods to its vending machines. "We have tried piloting healthy snacks as alternatives, but they do not sell as well, so the vending companies are reluctant to implement this," she says.

The problem is that healthy foods cost more money, have to be replaced more frequently in vending machines, and are not as filling. "Most of our plant folks have limited time on their breaks and are looking for cheap, filling alternatives," explains Sexton.

Occupational health has had better success by providing healthy food as rewards to employees at dinners and breakfast meetings. "The nurses at the plants are part of the planning process for any reward meals," says Sexton. "I have had less success in our office environments. There tend to be more bagels, donuts, and biscuits. Cost becomes the primary issue."

Raise awareness with HRAs

"The path to elimination of workplace junk food is paved by efforts that speak to individual health concerns," says Klinner. "Once that candy bowl is out of sight, it is often out of mind."

Occupational health services offers personalized programs that can provide the foundation for lifestyle changes and institute preventative health measures, including health risk assessments (HRAs).

"These assessments collect information from individuals that identify risk factors, provide individualized feedback, and offers the person at least one intervention," says Klinner. "Many health risks can be mitigated through healthy nutrition changes."

This provides the employee with motivation for behavioral changes that promote health, sustain function and/or prevent disease. HRAs are also used to provide aggregate data reporting for employers and organizations.

"These reports include demographic data of participants, and highlight health risk areas," says Klinner. "They often include cost projections and savings in terms of increased healthcare, absence and productivity."

Organization-level reports can then be used to target and monitor appropriate health interventions within the workforce. "There have been suggestions that taking a HRA alone can have a positive effect on health behavior change and health status," adds Klinner.

Occupational health services can follow up on HRA findings by getting employees involved with health coaching. "They also help employers measure and monitor the population's health status, employee health behavior, and health risks over time," says Klinner.


For more information on encouraging employees to eat healthier, contact:

• Barbara Klinner, RN, BSN, CCM, LNC, CWC, Director of Business Services, Marshfield (WI) Clinic. Phone: (715) 847-3195. Fax: (715) 847-3868. E-mail: klinner.barbara@marshfieldclinic.org

• Vicki Sexton, RN, Manager, Human Resources/Occupational Health, Shaw Industries, Dalton, GA. Phone: (706) 279-8494. Fax: (706) 428-3268. E-mail: Vicki.Sexton@shawinc.com.