Workforce Nutrition evidence briefs

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

This set of briefs from GAIN provides evidence to support the effectiveness of workforce nutrition programmes. There is an introduction to the series, and evidence reviews for four programme areas: 1) Healthy food at work; 2) Nutrition education; 3) Nutrition-focused health checks; and 4) Breastfeeding support. Each brief also include examples of good practice, success metrics, company experience and evidence of impact. 


Introduction: The evidence for workforce nutrition programmes

Workforce nutrition programmes are a compelling part of the solution to malnutrition, and important for business returns and, ultimately, GDP. Improved diets in the short and long term are linked to better work capacity, where absenteeism (missed working days) and presenteeism (present at work but unable to function at full capacity) are decreased. 

Together, the private and public sectors can improve the health of global workforces and significantly reduce the global burden of malnutrition in a wide variety of settings. By using existing structures of the workplace - whether a corporate office or tea plantation - workforce nutrition programmes aim to create improved access to, and demand for, safe and nutritious food. Breastfeeding support programmes are also included, as they enable working parents to provide adequate nutrition to their infants - an investment in the nutritional health of future workforces.


Healthy food at work

These are programmes which focus on increasing employees’ access to healthy and safe foods at work. Employers may provide healthy food for free, with a subsidy, or at full cost to the employee. These programmes change the food environment through healthier canteen meals (some include promotion alongside options), snack offerings, vending machine options, more balanced portion sizes. All of these shape people’s access to nutritious foods and encourage healthier choices.


Nutrition education

Nutrition education programmes aim to change the nutrition and/or lifestyle behaviours of employees through increasing employees’ knowledge of beneficial health habits. Nutrition education may act on several levels, including: (1) changing attitudes towards a specific behaviour; (2) addressing normative beliefs (i.e. the perceived norm); (3) modifying beliefs about self-control and the ability to change. Interventions often work through groups with methods such cooperative menu planning, dissemination of educational materials, interactive information sessions and workshops; an alternative approach is one-to-one counselling.


Nutrition-focused health checks

Nutrition focus health checks are periodic one-to-one meetings with a health or nutrition professional to assess, and usually discuss, the employee’s nutritional health. Health checks provide personalised data for each employee, giving them a better understanding of their nutritional risk factors. These might include cholesterol and/or blood-pressure screenings, or weight monitoring and classification (for example using Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess whether an employee is underweight, overweight or obese). Individual counselling can be coupled with health checks to help devise lifestyle change strategies and follow up counselling can support employees in tracking their progress towards nutrition-related goals.


Breastfeeding support

Workplace breastfeeding support includes programmes or company policies which enable working mothers to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continually up to 2 years. Such programmes can include: respecting or exceeding national laws on duration of paid maternity leave (ensuring 6 months minimum); providing an appropriate  place and time to express/pump milk during work hours and providing options for working mothers such as on-site child care and flexible work schedules. Some programmes include awareness-raising or nutrition education campaigns for mothers and co-workers on the importance of breastfeeding.

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This resource presents evidence or data but has not been peer reviewed