Improving Employee Diets Could Save Companies Millions

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Improving Employee Diets Could Save Companies Millions

The food, alcohol, and tobacco industries have been blamed for “manufacturing epidemics” of chronic disease, but they’re just trying to sell more product like everyone else. And so, if that means distorting science, creating front groups, compromising scientists, blocking public health policies… they’re just trying to protect their business.

It’s not about customer satisfaction, but shareholder satisfaction. How else could we have tobacco companies, for example, “continuing to produce products that kill one in two of their most loyal customers?”

Civil society organizations concerned with public health have earned a reputation for being “anti-industry,” but the issue is not industry, but that sector of industry whose products are harmful to public health. We like the broccoli industry. In fact, the corporate world might end up leading the lifestyle medicine revolution.

As shown in my video, Plant-Based Workplace Intervention, the annual cost attributable to obesity alone among full-time employees is estimated at 70 billion dollars, primarily because obese employees are not as productive on the job. Having healthy employees is good for the bottom-line. Every dollar spent on wellness programs may offer a $3 return on investment. And if you track the market performance of companies that strive to nurture a culture of health, they appear to outperform their competition. 

That’s why companies like GEICO are exploring workplace dietary interventions (see my video, Slimming the Gecko). The remarkable success at GEICO headquarters led to an expansion of the program at corporate offices across the country, with test sites from San Diego to Macon, Georgia. Given that previous workplace studies have found that workers who ate a lot of animal protein had nearly five times the odds of obesity, whereas those that ate mostly plant protein appeared protected, obese and diabetic employees were asked to follow a plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit while avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs. Compliance wasn’t great. Fewer than half really got their animal product consumption down, but there were definitely improvements such as significant reductions in saturated fat, an increase in protective nutrients, and even noted weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar control in diabetics.

And this was with no calorie counting, no portion control, and no exercise component. The weight reduction appears to result from feeling fuller earlier, due to higher dietary fiber intake. The difference in weight loss could also be the result of an increase in the thermic effect of food, allowing a small extra edge for weight loss in the vegan group. Those eating plant-based diets tend to burn off more calories in heat.

Eating plants appears to boost metabolism. This may be due to increased insulin sensitivity in cells, allowing cells to metabolize carbohydrates more quickly rather than storing them as body fat. “As a result, vegan diets have been shown to increase postprandial calorie burn by about 16%, up to three hours after consuming a meal.”

Imagine how much money companies that self-insure their employees could save! See, for example:

Find out more on some of the potential downsides of corporate influence in videos like

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


16 responses to “Improving Employee Diets Could Save Companies Millions

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  1. The company where I work provides a free piece of fruit every day which is a nice start. Our country should try to figure out how to reward good health habits somehow. Good health is its own reward but many more people could perhaps be motivated by a cash back or points program. Tricky territory, but the unintended disincentives we currently have are tragic.

    1. We had physicals and blood work done after my husband started his new job. If we fall in the perimeters of the 5 things they ask for, getting a point for each, they would add money to the medical pretax account so long as we are putting money in also. We both hit the 5 points which was good for another $1000 into that account. We hope not to have medical issues but if we do it is nice to know there is the extra cash there. Now we need a country who rewards veg and fruit growers rather then companies who create food in a plant or use unsustainable practices causing illness to the land and us.

  2. The hospital I worked at here in So Fla had a KILLER salad bar for the employees. Also the entrees always included a lo fat, lo salt veg meal. .. They tried… even though they had a McDonalds in the lobby… But, hey…. job security for a hospital, right?…..
    sorry, I could not help my self ;^)
    m

    1. I saw an ophthalmologist who was based at a university teaching hospital about getting implanted contact lenses to fix my severe myopia. They had a lot of diabetic retinopathy patients. You should have seen what was in the snack machines in the waiting area. I guess people have two eyes and they wanted to make sure to get them both?

      1. Lemonhead and Mitch – Did either of you read Esselstyn’s book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” ? In it, at one point, he shares a conversation with a cardiologist he worked with. He asked the cardiologist why he doesn’t tell his patients what a WFPB diet will do for them (now that he knew of Esselstyne’s work). The reply: “Have you seen my billables?” The cardiologist billed out $500,000.00 per year in procedures.

        I think its unconscionable and I’m just waiting for the right person to sue physicians like that for withholding information that could help them.

        But the change is slowly occurring – we have to think of Gandhi and how he slowly just kept at it.

        1. Hadn’t heard/read that story before, but I’m not surprised (I’ve got very little faith left in humanity after all the crap I’ve been through).

          The way to get the most people on board is most likely the cost-savings argument as laid out in the article – which kind of sad, but if it works…

          However, it is prudent to be aware that even this line of reasoning can get twisted by moneyed interests, e.g.:

          Smoking Can Help Czech Economy, Philip Morris-Little Report Says: Cigarette Smokers’ Frequent Early Deaths Offset Federal Medical Costs, Study Finds
          http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB995230746855683470

          1. Yes, but it is more than just medical costs. I don’t know about the US but many countries have national age pension schemes. Consequently, just bringing down the average age of death or preventing it increasing, can save trillions annually. Also, besides medical and pension costs, it is possible to reduce age care costs very significantly if more people do not live long enough to need aged care.
            I have not seen any cost estimates, perhaps because doing this sort of modelling would be considered politically incorrect. However, I suspect the savings to the public purse might be considerable even after offsetting the increased medical costs associated with smoking.

            1. On the other hand those people may die before they need old age care, but the conditions they die from will cost people more than any services someone who eats a healthy whole food plant based diet costs over their entire lifetime. Also, it is quite likely that people who are healthy and eat a plant based diet will also be able to work longer which likely means they will contribute to the tax base for longer which might even out the extra cost in terms of pensions. Personally I think it’s crappy that people think other people should die so we don’t have to pay their pensions, but that argument is flawed anyway.

      1. At first I was very surprised to read the first article in corporate press. But then, not at all surprised to read the final two paragraphs quoting the recommendations of a meat eater.

      2. Yup. And did you know that Medicare pays for Dr. Dean Ornish’s vegan reverse heart disease program? And Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the country, has issued a statement that the healthiest diet is a WFPB diet. Also – here is the statement from the American Dietetic Association which they issues back in 2009:
        VEGAN DIETS AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION
        Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.
        Craig WJ1, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association.
        Author information
        Abstract
        It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods. This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence- based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals. The variability of dietary practices among vegetarians makes individual assessment of dietary adequacy essential. In addition to assessing dietary adequacy, food and nutrition professionals can also play key roles in educating vegetarians about sources of specific nutrients, food purchase and preparation, and dietary modifications to meet their needs.
        • 1

        My 29 near old niece, never ate meat, vegan at 12, just gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

  3. I have strict vegetarian friends who are overweight and paleo friends who are trim… I also think of elephants and lions, obviously nonhuman, but maybe it comes down to the individual … helping employees to avoid sugar, limit eating times and encourage exercise breaks could make the ultimate difference in their health profiles..

  4. Did they compare the experiment as well with a proper hormone free + organic + unprocessed paleo diet, by any chance? I’d love to know the results!

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