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The Employer’s Role in Supporting Workers’ Eating Habits

A key finding from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey is that U.S. adults aren’t eating the recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables daily. We know a majority of adults eat some fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, but there’s a difference between some fruits and vegetables and the recommended amount.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most adults eat the equivalent of three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit daily. National surveys show that more than two-thirds of adults eat fruit on a given day and approximately 95 percent eat vegetables daily. How can we work toward closing the gap between eating some fruits and vegetables and the recommended amount?

While what workers choose to eat is ultimately up to them, there are steps employers can take to cultivate an environment that supports healthy eating and creates opportunities for workers to engage in these health-promoting behaviors.

Why is the workplace an ideal location to focus on behavior change?

Working adults often spend at least half their waking hours at work. The culture and environment of a workplace have the power to influence social norms and health-promoting policies can also be implemented. Health and safety-minded employers already promote health screenings, flu shots and sun-protective practices.

Why should employers take an interest in workers’ food choices?

Eating a nutritious diet – one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables – plays a role in workers’ overall health, well-being and productivity, as well as potential healthcare costs for the management of chronic conditions. Research shows that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What determines what we choose to eat?

A number of factors play a role in our dietary preferences and the foods and drinks we purchase, prepare and consume. LIUNA Local Unions, signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can all play a role in positively influencing and contributing to many of these factors.

Factor Explanation Employer’s Role
Nutritional knowledge Awareness and application of nutritional recommendations for one’s age, gender and body size Distribute health education materials and post signage about building a healthy eating plan and how this can benefit a career in construction
Accessibility and affordability Availability of nutritious food in the communities where workers live and work; food marketing strategies Offer healthy options in vending machines, contract with food vendors coming to the jobsite to sell healthy options at reduced prices, offer healthy options onsite when food is provided
Environmental considerations Facilities to prepare and store food If feasible for the jobsite, equip the space so workers can bring healthy food options from home (e.g., storing coolers to keep food cold) and provide a place to eat onsite during break time
Social norms Behaviors followed and accepted by coworkers, family members and friends We can all be peer-pressured into healthy or unhealthy behaviors. Create an environment that supports healthy eating.
Cultural patterns Ingredients, preparation and types of food vary among cultures Establish acceptance for foods from many different cultures, regardless of whether workers are a part of that group
Psychological factors Beliefs, habits, perceptions, attitudes and motivation Share information that healthy eating has a role in increasing productivity Promote the comprehensive health benefits provided by LIUNA health and welfare funds, such as lifestyle management programs and sessions with a registered dietitian, that support members in achieving their goals and making lasting changes
Physiological factors Hunger, taste, appetite Host classes or seminars related to healthy eating with demonstrations and samples

By taking these steps, employers can build a jobsite culture that supports healthy eating and makes it easier for workers to eat well while on the clock. Doing so can benefit the overall health, safety and well-being of workers and improve workers’ morale and productivity as well.

For more information about nutrition, visit the Fund’s Nutrition & Fitness page, browse our nutrition publications or reach out to the Fund’s Health Promotion Division for assistance and guidance with the interventions and programs above.

[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Manager.]

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