Nutrition Should Play a Core Role in Your Occupational Health Program

Mentally and emotionally, the demands of intense physical labor can create stress that leads to unhealthy behaviors and unsafe situations.

Building a foundation for good health begins with how we fuel and nourish our bodies. Just like a home or any other building, the foundation is essential to ensuring the structure can withstand the pressures it faces. For today’s workers, nutrition is a key component of establishing a solid foundation of health. Yet, too many industrial professionals overlook the critically important role that nutrition plays in keeping them safe on and off the job. To address this, more and more organizations are realizing their role in fostering healthier nutrition habits as part of larger workplace wellness initiatives.

After all, today’s modern worker is both highly skilled and highly challenged by the physical, mental and emotional demands of the job. Physically, many industrial workers suffer repetitive motion injuries, strains and sprains that proper nutrition and fitness can help prevent. Mentally and emotionally, the demands of intense physical labor can create stress that leads to unhealthy behaviors and unsafe situations. Addressing these challenges takes a proactive perspective. Proper nutrition and education around healthy choices is a cornerstone of that proactive approach and they key to preventing injuries, fostering wellness and safety and alleviating stress. Regardless of the industry, what workers eat has a major impact on occupational health and plays a vital role in preventing workplace injuries. Overlooking nutrition and its impact on health and wellness is a significant and costly mistake.

Here are tactics and practices employers and occupational health providers can utilize to create healthier workplaces through smarter nutrition programs.

Focusing on Personalized Wellness

Wellness is very personal and it’s important to offer a variety of programming ranging from condition management to holistic wellbeing. We know that more than 655,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year. That is one death every 36 seconds. Some behaviors and conditions that exacerbate heart disease include: obesity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol use, smoking and diabetes – all causes that can be addressed with personalized nutrition counseling. Unlike many other health conditions, heart disease impacts nearly every population and demographic and the intense and demanding physical work is associated with higher levels of cardiovascular risk.

Incorporating personalized nutrition counseling in the workplace is one way of removing barriers to care and ultimately helping reduce negative health incidents and the costs associated with them. Employers should consider being creative with the format of their nutrition counseling programs to communicate with employees in the way that best resonates with them. Programs can take the form of more private one-on-one counseling, or more casual wellness events or toolbox talks to meet employees where they are. In addition to providing information on the importance of high-quality, nutritious foods and balanced diets, occupational health care providers should also incorporate counseling on the impact that behaviors like smoking and excessive alcohol use have on health and work to connect healthy choices with better quality of life on the job and off.

Nutrition to Reduce Fatigue and Stress

Reducing fatigue and stress also plays a significant role in preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace and promoting wellness. Furthermore, reducing stress can lead to a more productive workplace with employees performing more quality work at a faster pace. Like obesity and diabetes, stress and fatigue can also contribute to cardiovascular events and can be difficult to talk about for some people. Especially in jobs that are both extremely physically taxing and often are marked by a culture of forcing people to be “tough,” stress can be omnipresent, and too often not addressed.

Here is another area where nutrition can be a tool for employers. Stress and nutrition are closely connected, but affect individuals differently. Stress causes some people to overeat and reach for unhealthy foods, while it drives others to ignore hunger cues, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Facilitating forums to talk about job and life stress, as well as guidance for managing it, can go a long way in supporting employee health and helping industrial athletes make better choices. As part of an on-site nutrition program, also consider reinforcing the importance of regular breaks during the day, incorporating lower-impact stress-relieving activities like walking and spending time outside whenever possible.

Educating your Workforce for Success and Health

Occupational health care is not about simply treating injuries that may occur on a worksite. In its truest and most beneficial form, it is a commitment to a holistic and caring approach that reduces accidents and increases staff engagement. While most employees will know on some level that nutrition is an important component to overall health, they may not truly understand its impact in staying well both on- and off-the-job. Occupational health care providers, especially athletic trainers, are uniquely qualified to build nutrition and wellness programs for industrial athletes and deliver the information in a way that gains critical buy-in from employees to adopt and maintain healthier behaviors that keep employees safe and productive and reduce costs associated with injuries.

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