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Analysis of an award-winning workplace health program

workplace health program, workplace POWERA health and wellbeing program targeting blue collar male workers has successfully helped participants to lose an average four to five kilos without giving up beer or steak.

Workplace POWER, which stands for Preventing Obesity Without Eating like a Rabbit, won the inaugural National Preventative Health Award in 2013 for the best Workplace Health and Wellbeing initiative in large workplaces.

The program was developed by Professor Phil Morgan of the University of Newcastle and implemented for the first time in 2011 at an aluminium smelter in Tomago, NSW.

Along with weight loss, the 300 participating employees experienced overall health and quality of life improvements, while increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced workplace injuries saved money for employers.

Delivered onsite by the university or another trained provider, the program includes a 90-minute information session and DVD, as well as online and handbook resources tailored specifically to men.

“By creating programs that specifically speak to men, that allow them to not give up some of their ‘dietary luxuries’ and don’t require frequent and potentially time-consuming face-to-face contact, they respond enthusiastically and achieve great weight-loss outcomes,” said Professor Morgan.

The program focuses on sustainable methods of weight-loss and physical activity using language and strategies which appeal to men.

“Instead of prescriptive diets to follow – which is likely to turn men off – these programs educate men about embedding physical activity and healthy eating into their day,” said Professor Morgan.

“This can range from teaching them how to read food labels to understanding energy balance, overcoming urges and increasing incidental activity.”

Companies, such as All Earth Group, have since participated in the program with positive results.

Workplace POWER can be accessed through the Newcastle Innovation website by any organisation seeking a workplace health program for male employees. It is particularly recommended for shift workers.

Tips for Better Eating On Site

In addition to implementing a health program, it is important for managers to consider how else they are influencing the eating habits of their employees.

Research shows that managers affect construction workers eating habits in three areas – work/time pressure, environment and leadership behaviours.

Creating a better food environment is part of the solution so here are some tips to get you started and to share with your workers:

For Managers:

  1. Consider putting healthier options in the site vending machines. Your current supplier may already have healthy products available which you can swap with some of the unhealthy ones. This Guide for Employers by Eat Well Tasmania provides information on implementing healthy vending machines, which foods to stock and what ratio of healthy to unhealthy items is ideal.
  2. Replace the unhealthy site barbecue with healthy catering options instead, such as sandwiches, wraps, sushi, salads and fruit. Some ideas can be found here and here but, generally, wholemeal and wholegrain options, low fat, low salt and reduced sugar alternatives, and more fruit and veg is the way to go. Chilled water or low-sugar electrolyte drinks should also always be on hand as soft drinks and energy drinks are full of sugar and a serious health concern.
  3. Ensure that employees have sufficient meal breaks and access to well-outfitted rest areas.

For Workers:

  1. Buy a cooler bag and a couple of ice bricks to store your lunch and snack foods in throughout the day.
  2. Download the FoodSwitch app which allows you to scan the barcodes of items at the supermarket to get easy-to-understand nutritional information. You can choose filters to help you avoid certain products or simply go for overall healthier options. Find it here for Android and here for iPhone.
  3. Cook or prepare your lunch the night before so it’s easy to grab the next morning on your way out the door. Leftovers are also a great option.
  4. Chuck a bottle of water in the freezer overnight and you’ll have cold water for the rest of the day, making staying hydrated more appealing.
  5. If fast food is really the only option then try and choose healthier items, such as fruit smoothies, fish burgers, salads and chicken wraps.