Use this new tool to ID gaps in programs

Inexpensive changes result in savings

Do you want to know how a health-promoting environment affects your company's bottom line? One new weapon in your arsenal is the Environmental Assessment Tool (EAT). EAT has been used by occupational health professionals in about a dozen worksites thus far to assess organizational, environmental, and social support for health promotion interventions in the workplace. EAT has been used particularly to assess those interventions directed at physical activity, access to healthy food choices, and weight management.1

The EAT scores a worksite on how well it encourages physical activity, good nutrition, and weight management. Points are also scored based on parking, availability of bicycle racks, location of stairs and elevators, access to shower and changing facilities, fitness facilities, and healthy foods. "The data allow you to identify areas of the environment to improve," says Heather Bowen, MS, RD, LD, research coordinator for The Workplace Health Group at the University of Georgia in Athens.

One challenge is that all worksites are different, even within the same company. "How do you compare a worksite that has a company cafeteria with one that doesn't have a cafeteria?" asks Bowen. "Does having a company cafeteria make a worksite more health supporting? Does it depend on the food being served?"

Many physical environmental changes are inexpensive to implement, but could save a significant amount of money by improving employee health. For instance, one component of the EAT is the number of healthy items in vending machines. "There is little to no expense for a company to ask a vendor to provide healthier vending options," says Bowen. If the EAT reveals that only 10% of items meet healthy criteria, an action plan could be developed to increase that percentage to 25%.

The EAT might also show you that although your worksite has policies supporting employee physical fitness, these aren't being communicated effectively, adds Bowen.

EAT ID'd these gaps

At The Dow Chemical Co., based in Midland, MI, EAT recently was used to assess 12 sites.

Karen Tully, global health promotion leader at Dow, says, "This tool is in its infancy stage and has great future potential for health professionals in the workplace."

Generally speaking, employees that work in environments that promote healthier eating, options for physical activity, and leadership support for healthy behaviors have lower health care costs, says Tully.

As a result of the audit tool, Dow created on-site walking paths with clear signage and easy accessibility. "Ongoing communications that encourage use of the walking paths during lunch hours and breaks help boost participation," says Tully.

EAT revealed that there weren't too many healthy food choices in Dow's cafeterias and vending machines. Flagging nutritious food options also was needed, so workers knew which selections are healthiest. "Once these opportunities were discovered, we developed an action plan to increase our healthy options to at least 25% and ensured that the options were clearly identified," says Tully.

Reference

  1. DeJoy, DM, Wilson MG, Goetzel, RZ, et al. Development of the Environmental Assessment Tool (EAT) to measure organizational, physical and social support for worksite obesity prevention programs. J Occ Environ Med 2008; 50:126-137.