Corporate wellness

Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are best known for their roles in clinical nutrition, food service management, community nutrition, and public policy. However, there is increasing opportunity for RDNs to expand their job search into the private sector. Employers across the United States are implementing corporate wellness programs to increase employee health and reduce their healthcare costs. A 2010 study found that for every $1 an employer spends on corporate wellness, they save $4 on health care costs and absenteeism (1). This is an obvious incentive for any business, small or large, to implement a corporate wellness program. So much so that the 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey showed that 46% of small businesses and 83% of large companies provide some sort of corporate wellness program to their employees (2). With growing popularity, these programs are excellent opportunities for RDNs to explore new employment options and reach new clientele.

When searching through corporate wellness providers, I quickly learned that the term “corporate wellness” could take on many different definitions. Platforms varied from one-on-one services, to software packages, to interactive phone apps. Services mostly included diet and exercise initiatives but some also provided physical therapy, massage therapy, mindfulness, and meditation. Overall, these programs are designed to prevent the development of chronic diseases by identifying risk factors and implementing lifestyle changes to reduce those risks.

In addition to lowering employer costs and improving employee health, corporate wellness may also address the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasize the need to “support healthy eating patterns for all” (3). Corporations are like communities that allow individuals to interact every day, share comparable work experience, possess similar values, and likely have similar education backgrounds. As such, the corporate environment is a great opportunity to stimulate support and discussion around nutrition and health issues. By creating a culture of health at work, we are more likely to create a culture of health at home, with friends, and eventually in the community.

With the many potential benefits of corporate wellness programs, how are RDNs utilized in these programs? I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder and owner of Family Food LLC, a corporate wellness provider based out of Philadelphia. Krista Yoder Latortue is an advocate for the use of RDNs to design and implement corporate wellness initiatives.

“When people are spending the bulk of their day in a work environment, meeting them at work increases the public’s accessibility to Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). Additionally, with the increased demand for corporate wellness, it is essential that RDNs, the nutrition experts, lead corporate wellness initiatives to ensure evidence-based nutrition interventions are being used”

Unfortunately, I don’t think every corporate wellness provider thinks like Latortue. After looking at websites of many corporate wellness programs, I began to question the quality of services being provided. Of the 25 companies I looked at, only 9 of them clearly stated they had RDNs on staff, on the executive team, or working as health coaches. Others provided services from nurses, personal trainers, physiologists, or even“company certified wellness coaches,” with no description of the certification process. Latortue expressed her concern about programs that don’t utilize the skills of RDNs.

“If nutrition education is being provided by unqualified providers, the chances of actually reducing employee health care costs decreases. Not only do they waste money on paying for a program, they continue to lose money to poor employee health. It is important to educate companies and wellness committees about the importance of using qualified health professionals, like RDNs, to provide corporate wellness programs.”

In a study that examined 150 corporate and hospital wellness programs, registered dietitians were more likely to work for hospital-based wellness programs and not corporate wellness programs (4). RDNs have classically been employed in clinical settings, and branching into the corporate world may be challenging. I asked Latortue how RDNs interested in corporate wellness should get involved.

Pay attention to local groups in your area that may be forming around corporate wellness and get involved to be the voice of RDNs, the nutrition experts”

As corporate wellness continues to grow, it is imperative that RDNs are on the forefront of the services being provided. Working in corporate wellness is an opportunity for RDNs that are interested in preventive care and lifestyle modification, enjoy working with individuals, and are passionate about shaping the nutrition and health beliefs of society. RDNs in corporate wellness also have a chance to increase public knowledge of what RDNs do, who we are, and why we are the trusted experts in nutrition.

 

  1. Baicker, K., Cutler, D. & Song, Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff. Proj. Hope 29, 304-311 (2010).
  2. 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey-Summary of Findings. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2016).
  3. S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
  4. Hickerson, M. & Gregoire, M. Characteristics of the Nutrition Provider in Corporate and Hospital Wellness Programs. Am. Diet. Assoc. 92, 339-341 (1992).

 

 

March 2017 Member Highlight Interview for ASN Nutrition Notes eNewsletter:

Interview with Juan Rivera Dommarco, Director of the National Institutes of Public Health (INSP) of Mexico, President of the Latin American Nutrition Society (SLAN), and Executive Board Member of the Ibero-American Nutrition Foundation (FINUT)

Dr. Rivera is the newly appointed Director of the National Institutes of Public Health, where he has been since 1993. There he founded the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health in 2001. He is also Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health of Mexico and Adjunct Professor at Emory University. Dr. Rivera has published more than 400 scientific articles, book chapters, and books, and made more than 500 presentations and conferences at scientific events. He is past recipient of the Kellogg International Nutrition Research Award from ASN, granted for active engagement in research to benefit populations in nonindustrialized countries, as demonstrated through publications in the scientific literature, and actively engaged in training new scientists for international nutrition research.

1. How did you first get involved in nutrition epidemiology and research? What made you interested in the field of nutrition science?

My original motivation was poverty and inequity. Most Latin American Countries, including Mexico have profound inequities. Since childhood, I felt social inequalities were morally wrong. During high school, I read several books about social injustice, including Josue de Castro’s recounts of inequity, and a direct indicator of inequity was hunger and undernutrition. After high school, I spent some time in an indigenous community in Chiapas, where I witnessed poverty very closely. That is when I decided to devote my life to fight undernutrition, hunger, and their health effects. My undergraduate training was in nutrition and food sciences at the Universidad Iberoamericana, a Jesuit University in Mexico City with a mystic about poverty alleviation. I did my internship training with Dr. Joaquín Cravioto, a prominent Mexican scientist interested in undernutrition and mental development. He inspired me to become a nutrition scientist. I started reading the works of Scrimshaw, Habicht, and Martorell at INCAP in Guatemala and I corresponded with Jean-Pierre Habicht, who invited me to visit the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. After my visit, I decided to undergo postgraduate training in Nutrition at that University.

2. When and why did you first join ASN? What convinced you to join the organization?

I was first introduced to ASN in 1983, while I was a graduate student at Cornell University, and I officially became a member in 1991. My Committee Chair and mentor, Jean-Pierre Habicht, considered as part of the training of his students to attend the then called FASEB Meetings to present the results of our research. As many other of his students, I joined ASN and attended the meetings.

3. What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?
I appreciate the opportunity to keep up-to-date about new knowledge in the area of global nutrition, along with the high quality of the research results presented and lively discussions at Experimental Biology. I also advocate for ASN journals, in which I have published repeatedly, and I enjoy the opportunity to meet with colleagues and old friends during ASN meetings, where we often discuss new research and explore collaborations. More recently, ASN meetings have exposed my students to high quality works and allowed them to share the results of their studies with other nutrition scientists.

4. What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

In Mexico, we face the double burden of undernutrition and obesity; therefore, we are conducting research aimed at solving these two problems, which together are of great interest to the Global Nutrition Council and to much of the ASN membership:
 We have been monitoring the magnitude and trends of the double burden of malnutrition in Mexico during the last 30 years through national nutrition surveys.
 We are conducting birth cohort studies looking at the relationship between maternal feeding and weight status and gain during gestation, as well as infant feeding practices and several outcomes at different points in time during childhood and adolescence, including appetite and satiety, growth, weight gain, cardiometabolic risks, and neurodevelopment.
 We are also generating knowledge for the design of policies for the prevention and control of the double burden of malnutrition, including programs for the prevention for stunting, anemia, and micronutrient deficiencies and policies for the prevention and control of obesity, including fiscal measures and school regulations, among others.
 Finally, we are conducting evaluations of the effects of several programs and policies applied by the Government for the prevention and control of the double burden of malnutrition.

5. Can you tell us more about your current position and the research activities in which you are involved?

On February 16, I was appointed as Director General of the Mexican National Public Health Institute (INSP), the research and training institution that houses the Mexican School of Public Health. We conduct research in several public health topics including: nutrition, obesity and non-communicable chronic diseases, infectious diseases, environmental health, health systems research, reproductive health, health promotion, etc. and we offer twenty-eight Masters and PhD programs. We have around 1,200 employees and close to 500 students in three campuses. I am personally involved in the research activities mentioned above: monitoring the double burden in the population, birth cohort studies to assess the effects of infant feeding practices, generation knowledge for the design of policies for the prevention and control of the double burden, and evaluating the effects of some of those policies applied by the Government.

6. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers today? Are there any areas where you would like to see more research?

One of the biggest challenges in Public Health Nutrition is translating research results into clinical and public health large-scale interventions and their rigorous evaluation for further improvement. To do this we need research from subcellular particles (molecular biology) to programs and policy. This includes linking the wealth of information coming from basic research, particularly from molecular biology, to clinical and public health innovative actions. We also need to study the drivers and determinants of the double burden of malnutrition and its health and environmental consequences using a systems approach, since nutrition problems are multifactorial and complex. We need to understand the food system but also the factors influencing behaviors (food and physical activity). We also need to study how to influence sound policy-making, including the roles of direct advising to policy makers and of social mobilization to generate demand for policy. Finally, we need to conduct rigorous evaluations in order to inform policy makers about improvements in current policies.
March 2017 ASN Nutrition Notes Member Highlight
Interview with Dr. Juan Rivera Dommarco – Page 3

7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students and postdocs?

To Students and postdocs: The phrase “First do no harm” (Latin Primum non nocere) is believed to have been part of the original Hippocratic oath taken by physicians. We nutritionists do not take a similar oath, but we should. You have the privilege to be a fraction of people in the world who have access to postgraduate training. You chose Nutritional Sciences, a field that can have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people. You should be generous, because life has been generous to you. You should pay back to those in poverty, to the neediest persons in the world, for the privilege to have reached postgraduate training, in an activity that can change the lives of many. However, most importantly, do not harm the nutrition and health of people by promoting or endorsing unhealthy food and beverage products. To the general ASN membership, I would like to invite you to attend the SLAN Congress in Mexico in late 2018, showcasing the best nutrition research from Mexico and Latin America.

Dr. Rivera’s research interests include the epidemiology of stunting (under-nutrition and obesity), the short- and long-term effects of under-nutrition during early childhood, the effects of zinc and other micronutrient deficiencies on growth and health, the study of malnutrition in Mexico, and the design and evaluation of policies and programs to improve nutritional status of populations.