Samosas, bread pakoras, patties, burgers, chowmein and other oil-laden artery-clogging food in cafeterias and vending machines stocked with calorie dense beverages such as colas or the sugary tea and coffee. This is pretty much the standard array of food in workplaces, churned out by food contractors with questionable hygiene standards.
There is little attention paid to food in offices both by the employer and employees. Too often, the workplace meal programs are an afterthought, characterised by high calorie, high fat, high sugar and high salt food, leaving employees with no healthy options. Many employers believe adults are responsible for their own health, while workers also feel the pressure to skip lunch, the so called desktop dining or SAD (stuck at desk) café phenomenon. A missed or incomplete lunch, however, lowers productivity, increases stress and leads to unhealthy afternoon snacking.
The truth is that neglecting workplace eating choices are virtually a recipe for disaster. Numerous studies indicate that food at work can impact not only employee health but have far reaching impact on the company’s health.Obese workers are twice as likely to miss work.
It seems that the workplace, instead of facilitating or even accommodating healthy food choices, has become a hindrance to good health. It is ironical as the quality of what we eat and drink at work directly impacts the quality of work and our productivity. Snacking on sugary food and drinks, which the body digests quickly, cause a short surge in energy but ultimately leave the body more fatigued.
The connection between nutrition, fatigue and drowsiness is well known. Fatigue or lack of energy, is often due to overwork or nutritional deficiency, most commonly that of iron but also of B vitamins. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world (about 80 per cent of the world’s population may have some level of iron deficiency). It not only reduces work capacity but can become a serious block to economic development. Besides sluggishness, it results in low immunity, low endurance and a decrease in work productivity for mental and physical tasks, which can drop to as much as 30 per cent.
We become sleepy after a big meal while smaller mid-day meals keep us alert and awake. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, can result both as a result of a large meal or if one skips a meal. It can shorten attention span and slow the speed at which individuals process information. Major industrial accidents, including the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, have been partly attributed to errors made by fatigued night-shift workers.
In China and India, lost productivity due to diet related diseases amounted to 0.5 per cent and 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2001. In developing countries, governments are often burdened by the treatment of malnutrition, infectious diseases and parasitic infestations. The double burden appears to be more challenging in these countries as heart disease, diabetes and other such diseases are increasing in the younger age groups. Populations are exposed to new food and lifestyles and what happened in the West over 200 years is occurring in just over two decades here.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity have assumed epidemic proportions in developing countries. Consumption of high fat, dangerous fat like trans fats, high sugar coupled with decreased physical activity, poor exercise habits and passive entertainment have a direct impact on development of these conditions.
Considering that employees spend the better part of their waking hours at work, the workplace represents a logical place to ensure proper nutrition through healthy meal provision. It is also an ideal setting to educate employees on proper nutrition and hygiene, the effect percolating to families and entire population at little cost. The solutions and intervention also boost employee morale, reduce the number of accidents and sick days, save on long term health care costs, promote the employer’s image and increase national GDP. Clearly, a healthy organisation is a wealthy organisation.
WHO has noted that adequate nourishment could raise national productivity by 20 per cent. Nobody says that the workplace alone is enough to make a change; rather it is the most essential and the best place to make a start. From multinationals to small scale enterprises, everyone can benefit from improved attention to food at work. Changes whether through improved cafeterias or mess halls, or introduction of healthy meal options, provision of safe and hygienic food and drinking water are well within the reach of any business, even the smallest ones.
Good nutrition is good business!