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Fruit and vegetable basket given out to SCHA's Working Well initiative meeting participants

Health professionals widely agree that fostering a supportive workplace environment is a key part of implementing a successful workplace health program. Simply put, workplaces that provide and encourage a healthy environment have healthier employees.

Unhealthy employees are less productive than their healthier peers. Unhealthy behaviors of the U.S. workforce cost employers $623 per employee annually, according to the Thomas Reuters Workforce Wellness Index.  People point to smoking, obesity and stress as the three most important factors impacting health costs.

Most employees in the United States spend nearly half of their waking hours in a workplace. And many employees are bound to eat one, if not two or more meals/snacks at work.

To support a healthier work setting, workplaces are creating healthy food policies.

The South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA), where I work, is one of those workplaces. The new “Healthy Food Policy” is pretty inclusive, addressing food and beverages served in the conference center and food in common areas. What seems like common stuff has many staff members up in arms. The policy does not allow food items such as candy, cakes, ice cream and the like to be dumped in the kitchen. It also does not allow for the “free cookies in the kitchen” type of emails to be blasted.

“We need to make the healthy choice, the easy choice,” said Jenn Wright, SCHA Working Well manager.

One of the many other sticky points for some include beverage options. Sweetened tea will no longer be an option. However, unsweetened tea with sweeteners will be available.

Does it really matter? Can changing what you drink when you eat a meal make a difference? What you drink makes more of a difference than you might think. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that around 37 percent of our total daily liquid calories come from sugar sweetened drinks. That amounts to about 400 calories a day come through a straw.

Infringing on personal choices? We as an organization and in health care are doing that in a variety of areas including by making campuses tobacco free places. Instead of just talking the talk, SCHA is helping to truly facilitate healthy habits with their practices. In addition to the above, we also have Pilates provided on site during the lunch hour and the ability to take a “walking meeting” out around the pond. Change is never easy especially in a society that associates food with celebration instead of fuel. How is your workplace helping facilitate healthy habits?

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