Better Health for the Bottom Line: Challenges and Solutions for Healthy Food Access in Minnesota Workplaces

The majority of Minnesota’s residents spend a significant amount of their time at work; many employees eat or purchase food there. Creating healthy food environments at work can significantly impact what Minnesotans eat and, in turn, their overall health.

A healthy workforce keeps healthcare costs down and employee productivity up. A Harvard study has shown that medical costs fall by approximately $3.27 for every $1.00 spent on wellness programs by helping employees stay healthy and productive. In short, ensuring a healthy workforce provides about a 300% return on employers’ investments—in addition to ensuring better productivity.

What did we hear?

For these reasons, the Minnesota Food Charter has focused in part on healthy food access at worksites. Through individual interviews, listening sessions, and workplace-specific questions raised at Food Charter events, Minnesotans shared their perspectives on worksite food environments and proposed solutions to improve healthy food access.

Many Food Charter participants identified a lack of guidance from top leadership about the importance of healthy eating habits and providing healthy options for employees while at work. They urged leaders to be vocal supporters of healthy eating and wellness. They said that many of their workplaces simply don’t have guidelines or policies in place requiring healthy food in vending machines, cafeterias, company stores, and at meetings and events. They also expressed concern about the abundance of unhealthy foods at work, like sugary drinks and snacks high in added sugar, fat and salt, and the higher cost of healthy foods sold at work. Inadequate transparency about the nutritional value and serving size of the food available was also cited as a problem, as well as a lack of space and time to prepare and eat healthy lunches.

In order to address wellness and access to healthy foods at work, the Minnesota Food Charter should address how employers can play an active role in fostering a healthy food environment that encourages employees to make healthy food choices

Participants proposed many ideas to make healthy food the norm in their workplaces. Many suggested actions leadership could take to enforce new and improved food policies and guidelines, including providing adequate space to prepare healthy meals. Food Charter participants also suggested establishing partnerships to bring healthy food to the workplace with programs like on-site farmer’s markets or employer-sponsored community supported agriculture (CSA) deliveries. These programs would not only encourage healthy eating at work, but would also give employees the ability to bring those healthy options home to their families.

Overall, participants stressed that organization-wide policy changes to increase wellness and access to healthy food were welcome and needed, adding that these policies require intentional engagement with employees to ensure these changes are feasible and sustainable.

Third Thursday Webinar: For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access at Worksites

The Minnesota Food Charter webinar this month, For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access at Worksites, will take an in-depth look at these ideas by sharing our findings from our interviews, listening sessions, and events.

We can help ensure that that healthy food and wellness are a priority both at work and at home. Join us to gain an understanding of the importance of healthy food in our workplaces, as well as some of the unique and innovative suggestions that will improve the health of our workforce. After all, a healthy workplace doesn’t just improve employees’ lives; it also improves employers’ bottom line.

For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access at Worksites will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 19th. Mark your calendar!