America’s obesity epidemic won’t be solved by any single agency, non-profit, or even a progressive company like Nestlé USA. We understand that no one-size-fits-all solution exists, yet realize we can play an important part in moving the needle on obesity.
Nestlé USA is taking deliberate steps to help tackle this public health crisis with our products, from a relentless focus on reducing sugar, sodium, and saturated fat in our foods and beverages, to educating consumers on making healthier choices. Because our products have such significant reach — 97% of American consumers have a Nestlé product in their home — we believe this reformulation work can help improve health outcomes.
But we also have a responsibility to our workforce, and that’s where I come in.
As Nestlé USA’s manager of benefits strategy, I’m proud that Nestlé USA is a founding member of the My Healthy Weight initiative, the first-ever collective effort to provide obesity prevention and treatment to people of all ages. This knowledge-sharing initiative of health care leaders includes private and public payers and employers, all pledging to provide consistent coverage to support healthy weight change. All together, the program serves as a win-win-win for employees, community public health, and participating business. The esteemed Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest health philanthropy, and the respected nonprofits the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Bipartisan Policy Center are partners in this effort, shedding light how investing in the health of employees is valuable for all involved. In fact, in addition to our primary goal to support our employees, emerging evidence shows that these investments can even offer a business return.
“It is the long-term impacts of obesity that add to employee absenteeism, health care expenses, and employer disability costs. All of these are preventable to some extent,” says Dr. Don Schwarz, RWJF’s Vice President of Programs, who leads the foundation’s efforts to promote healthier, more equitable communities, healthy children, and healthy weight. “It’s clear that Nestlé has seen the importance of addressing the causes of obesity and early care and treatment of those who are dealing with overweight and obesity.”
What will Nestlé USA’s efforts mean for our 51,000 workers in the U.S.? Starting in 2018, employees with a BMI in the ‘obese’ range will have access to at least 12 visits a year with a healthcare professional to support healthy weight. Those with a BMI in the ‘overweight’ range with specific cardiovascular health risks will also be offered visits with healthcare professionals, as will children with at-risk BMIs. We’ll also provide additional support like personalized on-demand health coaching and recipes and meal planning that integrate with on-site cafeterias.
This initiative builds on work we’ve already been doing to address obesity within our employee population. We subsidize 90% of the cost of the Optifast weight-management program for employees with weight challenges, so employees can take advantage of this Nestlé product. We offer programs to get employees moving, provide gym discounts, monitor and improve our cafeteria offerings, and even hired in-house health coaches to give employees one-on-one learning sessions.
Sure, all of this is good for our workforce, but it’s also good for our business. As Nestlé USA Chairman and CEO Paul Grimwood wrote earlier this year, investing in our employees — whether through apprenticeships, flexible work environments, or benefits to support individuals and families — paves the path to a thriving company and culture.
The benefits to the business of embracing the My Healthy Weight initiative are clear for employers like us: fewer absences, greater productivity, and lower levels of healthcare spending. In fact, worksite wellness programs like ours can result in significant savings, averaging about $2.73 of savings in absenteeism alone for each dollar spent. Nestlé USA relies on data to monitor and continuously improve both our products and our employee benefits and programs. While Nestlé cannot independently make an employee healthier, we have focused on engagement to improve health and reduce costs. Engaged employees are shown to have improved health outcomes, and healthier employees are more productive ones: Employees with higher health engagement scores have shown improved measures of productivity. This all impacts Nestlé USA’s bottom line.
But health is more than health care, which is why our employee benefits reach well beyond the healthcare sector. Our Parental Support Policy, for instance, offers primary caregivers up to 14 weeks of paid leave and an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a newborn. This gender-neutral benefit helps families during this critical window in their lives, and it dovetails well with our Nursing Mothers Program that includes certified lactation specialists and insurance-covered breast pumps. We also offer a FlexTime benefit to accommodate work-life issues, whether childcare or managing a long commute. We look at our benefits holistically; that’s the only way to properly serve a workforce as diverse as ours.
RWJF’s Schwarz says though it’s “exciting to see Nestlé step forward as an early adopter of this approach,” he hopes more businesses will follow suit, “supporting early interventions, within health benefit plans, in workplace wellness programs, and in helping to build communities where healthy foods and safe places for recreation are easy to access needs to be a priority.”
We talk a lot about creating shared value at Nestlé, and the My Healthy Weight endeavor is a prime example of how engaging your workforce creates value for all of us. We hope to look back on this chapter in our company’s history as a point when creative thinking and thoughtful collaboration helped to improve countless lives, while doing our part to support a healthier population.