The harmful health effects of eating too much salt have been in the news lately, due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s release of new draft guidelines aimed at getting food manufacturers and restaurant chains to significantly reduce the sodium in their products.
Too much sodium can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart attacks and strokes. This means employers can benefit significantly from following the federal government’s lead and trying to find ways to encourage employees to cut down their sodium intake.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on reducing sodium in the workplace, “employees at risk for heart disease and stroke can increase the cost of doing business through increased absenteeism, workers’ compensation, health benefits and lost productivity.”
The report goes on to cite a study which showed that for every dollar spent on a workplace hypertension control program, there was a $2 or more reduction in healthcare claims among hypertensive employees.
Another report on sodium reduction by ChangeLab Solutions says employers could save $10 billion to $24 billion in healthcare costs annually by helping employees lower their sodium intake by 1,200 milligrams per day. Increased productivity is another potential benefit of helping employees reduce their sodium intake, according to the report.
Practical options to help employees reduce salt intake
As an employer, you can do a number of things to help employees reduce their sodium intake.
Around the office
Many center around providing and promoting healthier food options around the office. For example, the CDC report recommends:
- Setting health standards, including sodium limits, for all foods and beverages served in cafeterias, café carts, vending machines and gift shops at the workplace
- Labeling foods to make it clear which ones are healthy and low in sodium
- Offering free taste tests of healthy foods
- Placing vending machines with unhealthy foods in inconspicuous places
Read the full report for many more practical suggestions to promote sodium reduction and healthy eating in general among employees.
Vending machine tips
Vending machines can be notorious for offering an abundance of salty, sugary foods and few, if any, healthy options.
A Boston Public Health Commission and Harvard School of Public Health report gives specific action steps organizations can take to reduce sodium in vending machines, including:
- Work with the vendor to stock snacks that have 200 milligrams of sodium per serving or less
- When the vendor’s contract is up for renewal, include specific language about healthy snacks
- Use signage and educational campaigns to promote healthier snacks over the unhealthy options
The report also recommends setting health standards, including a 200 milligram sodium limit, on “donated” snacks, such as those brought in by employees or vendors.
Providing healthier foods around the workplace doesn’t have to increase your costs. The ChangeLab Solutions report mentioned above recommends employers use group purchasing to get lower prices on healthier food items, and provides step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Healthy workplace toolkit
For more ideas on ways to improve the health of food available around your workplace, download the American Heart Association’s Healthy Workplace Food and Beverage Toolkit. It includes a sample workplace food and beverage “pledge,” menu plans and many practical steps for moving toward healthier food options in the workplace.
Ultimately, employees must decide for themselves whether to choose healthier foods, but there’s a lot you can do as an employer to make the choice easier. With all the benefits to your organization, and more importantly your employees, deciding to take steps toward healthier foods in the workplace should be the easiest choice of all.