WASHINGTON—Office workers can lose weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce absenteeism if their employer provides healthy low-fat vegetarian meals in the company cafeteria, finds a new study published in July’s American Journal of Health Promotion.
Reduced health care costs are likely for companies that offer worksite nutrition programs as the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) did for this 22-week clinical study. Annual costs of obesity-related expenditures to businesses have been estimated at approximately $13 billion.
“GEICO’s workplace nutrition program helped employees lose weight and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., an author of the new study. “If a company cafeteria offers low-fat vegetarian options every day, employees’ heath improves and they miss less work.” Ms. Levin is director of nutrition education for the nonprofit Washington Center for Clinical Research.
GEICO employees following a low-fat vegetarian diet in the worksite study lost about 11 pounds on average, placing them at lower risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. They also missed fewer hours at work. At least two individual participants lost more than 40 pounds. Control group participants following an omnivorous diet gained weight and experienced a rise in blood pressure. In addition to diet changes, the intervention group benefited from cooking demonstrations and other educational sessions led by doctors and dietitians.
As the study authors explain, “Employers may be motivated to provide obesity-related interventions, because they often assume financial liability for health outcomes and costs. Epidemiologic studies have shown that populations consuming low-fat, plant-based diets reduce body weight, improve plasma lipid concentrations, reverse coronary atherosclerosis, and improve type 2 diabetes management.”
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.