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.
- Baicker, K., Cutler, D. & Song, Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff. Proj. Hope 29, 304-311 (2010).
- 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey-Summary of Findings. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2016).
- 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/.
- Hickerson, M. & Gregoire, M. Characteristics of the Nutrition Provider in Corporate and Hospital Wellness Programs. Am. Diet. Assoc. 92, 339-341 (1992).