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Healthy eating – what do workplaces have to do with it?

We all know that eating healthy is good for us. But did you know that our work environment can impact on what we eat?

Diet is linked to 23 cancers and the Cancer Council Australia says 40 percent could be prevented if people ate the recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings. But an ABS study shows 58.2 per cent of the population’s food budget is spent on junk food and drinks, with a resulting health cost of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Add the economic costs of these chronic diseases to workplaces, health services and the community, and it makes good sense for workplaces to support and promote healthy eating.

Work environments can play a role in healthy eating through catering policies, food stocked in vending machines or onsite canteen menus. The following steps can improve worker health:

  • Provide education on why good nutrition is important through seminars, posters, emails and policies. The traffic light system of labelling foods as green, amber or red, depending on their nutritional content, is another good way of increasing the knowledge and skills of workers (for more information on how to do this refer to A Better Choice | Queensland Health).
  • If you offer food via onsite cafes or vending machines, ensure the healthy options are in full view and at eye level. The healthy options should be first on the menu and where possible, the cheapest.
  • Review menu items and replace non-nutritious ingredients for healthy alternatives - e.g. reduce the serve of chips and replace with larger serve of salad or cooked vegetables, using low fat, low sugar sauces and dressings.
  • Formalise the process by developing a healthy food and drink policy which is provided to café managers and suppliers.
  • Monitor and review your changes. For instance, has café income changed since making the healthier changes? Are healthy options now more popular than unhealthy options? Seek feedback from workers on the process and any changes in their nutritional knowledge and the choices they make.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Choose Well Live Well (PDF, 3.07 MB) booklet, developed in partnership with Easternwell Camp Management, provides ideas on implementing these six steps. Visit Nutrition Australia Queensland for information on their workplace services.

Further information

Read more information on creating a comprehensive work health and wellbeing strategy.