3 ways immunity-supporting workforce nutrition programs benefit employees, companies and communities

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors

  • Hidden hunger, or sustained deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, is one of the most complex public health challenges the global community faces today. It affects the health and economic prospects of two billion people worldwide, with one of the most damaging consequences being its negative impact on immunity.1
  • From increased sick leave to lower productivity, the effects of hidden hunger on immune health can have a significant influence on the financial and social development of businesses and communities.2
  • Effective workforce nutrition programs are one way the private sector can ensure a workforce has access to the nutritious food they need to stay healthy, support their families and help companies grow. Read on to discover how the immunity-supporting power of workforce nutrition programs can deliver a triple win for employers.

The cost of hidden hunger at an individual business level – and for the global economy as a whole – is considerable. It’s estimated that organizations in low- and middle-income countries lose collectively between US$130 billion and US$850 billion each year due to the productivity-sapping effects of the phenomenon,3 while data from the World Bank found that nations with a high prevalence of hidden hunger across their populations lose up to 5% of their gross domestic product (GDP) each year.4 But while the scale of the issue is vast, many businesses do not yet fully understand the effects of micronutrient deficiencies on their workers or bottom lines.5

With adequate consumption of micronutrients closely linked with normal immune function and potentially vaccine response,6 it’s critical that the private sector takes steps to safeguard the nutrition of their workers during the pandemic and beyond. In this latest blog, we explore the role of workforce nutrition programs in supporting employees’ immune health and business productivity.

1. Improving productivity

The first and most immediately valuable benefit nutrition programs can offer employers is a more efficient and productive workforce.7 Many businesses have already established canteens to provide catered meals during work hours. But particularly in low- and middle-income countries, the food on offer mainly consists of staples such as rice, maize, wheat, sorghum or millet cereals, which are low in essential micronutrients. Consequently, employers can find themselves having a seemingly well-fed workforce that’s nevertheless plagued by reduced productivity, impaired performance and efficiency.8

Employing micronutrient interventions such as staple food fortification with micronutrients and micronutrient powders mixed into food at work are an effective and cost-efficient method of combating the productivity challenges posed by hidden hunger. Workforce nutrition programs go a step further than simply providing staff with adequate calories by focusing on providing all the essential micronutrients in a way that’s affordable, scalable and easy to implement. Various workforce nutrition initiatives incorporate fortification of staples with multiple micronutrients to make foods more nutritious – an intervention that is relatively simple to implement with the correct training and education. Micronutrient powder sachets are another convenient tool at the disposal of companies that can help to upgrade the nutritional profile of any meal served at work. 

The effects of taking such steps speak for themselves. Multiple studies have shown that addressing hidden hunger in the workplace improves productivity and concentration9, while figures from Harvard Business Review suggest that every US$1 spent on workers’ nutrition ultimately can deliver a return on investment of up to US$6 for the employer10 – an increase that could translate to significant additional revenue each year. At the national level too, the World Health Organization has found that adequate workforce nutrition results in a 20% increase in a country’s productivity levels.11

2. Bolstering employee resilience and reducing sick leave  

Proper nutrition is vital for ensuring employees remain healthy and consistently able to come to work. Following decades of scientific research, a number of micronutrients have been identified as especially important in the body’s fight against infections.12 These include the minerals zinc, selenium, copper and iron and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and folate.13 For the two billion people suffering from hidden hunger worldwide, poor diets can lead to severe deficiencies in these vital micronutrients, leaving them more susceptible to infections14 and poor physical and mental performance. With 58% of the global adult population spending a third of their time working, the workplace is the ideal setting to address hidden hunger at scale15, as well as bolster business continuity and reduce instances of sick leave. 

Businesses who take steps to improve staff nutrition see fewer days lost to illness-related absences,16 while companies who provide health insurance or services for their staff see medical costs come down by up to 30%.17 The overall result - a healthier, more resilient workforce that’s ready and able to drive business growth.

3. Raising company reputation and loyalty    

When properly implemented, workforce nutrition programs help foster mutual trust between employer and employee, resulting in lowered personnel attrition for businesses and more a fulfilling, stable and satisfying workplace for staff.18 Prioritizing employees’ wellbeing can also transform a company’s reputation, both with workers themselves and the wider community. In one example, a study in Bangladesh examined the effectiveness of workforce nutrition programs in female factory workers by providing workers with daily lunches including micronutrient fortified rice with iron and folic acid supplements rather than normal rice.19 As a result of this nutritional intervention, infections, anemia and absenteeism were significantly reduced. The workers were also very satisfied with the quality, quantity, and taste of the nutrition enhanced lunch meal, which ensured high adherence of lunch meal among the workforce. 

Working towards a healthy global population

After more than a year of economic uncertainty, lockdowns and shortages, action to address the hidden epidemic of hidden hunger is needed more than ever. From improving workers’ health, attendance and morale to boosting efficiency and productivity, benefits of effective employee nutrition programs are well established.  In short, businesses only standing to gain by making workforce nutrition an important pillar of their post-COVID recovery strategy.20

Through public and private sector collaboration, DSM creates affordable, aspirational and accessible nutritional solutions that can help keep the world’s growing population healthy. With an extensive portfolio of science-backed ingredients, supported by customized solutions and expert services, DSM is your end-to-end partner in the fight against malnutrition and poor immune health.

Discover how DSM can help you tackle hidden hunger and support immune health in the workforce - visit our Nutrition Improvement immunity hub.

Published on

23 August 2021

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References

  1. P Bhaskaram. Micronutrient malnutrition, infection, and immunity: an overview. Nutrition Reviews, 60 (5), S40-S45 (2002)
  2. Christina Nyhus Dhillon et. al, ‘The evidence for workforce nutrition programmes’, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, 2019. https://www.gainhealth.org/resources/reports-and-publications/evidence-workforce-nutrition-programmes
  3. The Business Case for Investment in Nutrition. Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank. (2021). Retrieved 5 August 2021, from https://www.chathamhouse.org/2020/07/business-case-investment-nutrition.
  4. Mannar MGV & Sankar R. Micronutrient fortification of foods - rationale, application and impact. Indian J Pediatr 71, 997–1002 (2004)
  5. Ibid, The Business Case for Investment in Nutrition’
  6. Rayman, M., & Calder, P. (2021). Optimising COVID-19 vaccine efficacy by ensuring nutritional adequacy. British Journal of Nutrition, 1-2. doi:10.1017/S0007114521000386
  7. Public health expert ringing the alarm on workplace nutrition Nutraingredients USA, Feb 2020, https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2020/02/17/Public-health-expert-ringing-the-alarm-on-workplace-nutrition#  
  8. Wanjek, C., Food at work: Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, Geneva, International Labour Office, 2005, p.3
  9. Ibid, The evidence for workforce nutrition programmes’
  10. Ibid, ‘The evidence for workforce nutrition programmes’
  11. Ibid, Food at work: Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, p. 1
  12. Gombart AF, Pierre A, Maggini S. A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System - Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients 2020
  13. Ibid, A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System - Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection
  14. Murphy K and C. Weaver. Janeway’s Immunobiology, 9th ed.  New York, Garland Science, 2017
  15. Ibid, ‘Providing Healthier Meals for a Thriving Workforce: A practical guide for businesses’, Nutrition Connect
  16. Ibid, Food at work: Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, p. 70
  17. Ibid, The evidence for workforce nutrition programmes’
  18. Ibid, What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs? P. 104–112, 142
  19. Hossain M, Islam Z, Sultana S, Rahman AS, Hotz C, Haque MA, Dhillon CN, Khondker R, Neufeld LM, Ahmed T. Effectiveness of Workplace Nutrition Programs on Anemia Status among Female Readymade Garment Workers in Bangladesh: A Program Evaluation. Nutrients. 2019; 11(6):1259. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061259
  20. Ibid, Public health expert ringing the alarm on workplace nutrition