A Plant-Based Diet Boosts Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being, According to New GEICO Study

The Physicians Committee
NEWS RELEASE February 27, 2015
A Plant-Based Diet Boosts Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being, According to New GEICO Study
Workplace Wellness Program Alleviates Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue

WASHINGTON—An 18-week plant-based dietary intervention program boosts employee productivity, while alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue, according to a study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Researchers with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine placed GEICO employees with a BMI of 25 or above, or who were previously diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, on a low-fat, low-glycemic, high-fiber vegan diet.

Study participants experienced overall productivity and measurable improvements in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and general health, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire (WPAI). Study participants also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control, if they had type 2 diabetes.  

Healthful vegan options, including vegetable hummus sandwiches, seasonal leafy green salads, and black bean chili, were available in employee cafeterias. Because the four-month menu featured a variety of fruits and vegetables, it was rich in vitamins and minerals.

Study participants favored healthful carbohydrate-rich foods, including brown rice, steel cut oats, and rye bread, which help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin helps control mood. Weekly “lunch-and-learn” sessions enabled employees to acquire new cooking skills and learn about disease-fighting foods.

“The same foods that curb the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, may help boost overall mood,” notes study author Neal Barnard, M.D. “In the evolving landscape of neurological research, a plant-based diet may help in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

The study authors also hypothesize that when individuals improve their physical health, they may become more physically and socially active, increasing their mood and overall quality of life.

“Helping employees improve their health through a plant-based dietary intervention is a win-win situation for employees and the company,” notes Dr. Barnard. “Who doesn’t want to feel great, increase energy, and maximize productivity in the process?”

The study comes at a time when obesity affects 35 percent of U.S. adults, resulting in annual health care costs that are $1,429 higher per person than those of a normal weight. Lost productivity costs for obesity are $73 billion each year.

Depression also has a major impact, affecting 9.5 percent of the adult population, accounting for $83 billion in lost productivity each year.

  • Learn more about the study by reading Dr. Agarwal’s guest blog
  • Learn more about the study and plant-based nutrition at PhysiciansCommittee.org.  

For an interview with Dr. Barnard or with Dr. Agarwal, please contact Jessica Frost at jfrost@pcrm.org or 202-527-7342.

About Neal Barnard, M.D.:

Neal Barnard, M.D., is a clinical researcher, author, president and founder of the Physicians Committee, and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr. Barnard develops dietary components for several workplace wellness programs, including GEICO, PEPCO, Capitol One, and Whole Foods Health Starts Here.

About Ulka Agarwal, M.D.:

Ulka Agarwal, M.D., is the lead physician and psychiatrist at California State University, East Bay. Dr. Agarwal is the former chief medical officer for the Physicians Committee and a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship through the University of Arizona.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.