My 3-tier system to improve health and have more fun at your workplace

Lunch break with healthy food in a company

by Gianluca Tognon

There are several reasons why implementing a system to improve health and lifestyle at the workplace is a wise thing to do. As an example, a healthy lifestyle is often associated with a healthy weight. The more people who are normal weight at a workplace, the less sick leave there will be.  Indeed, according to the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) both productivity and “presenteeism” are higher among healthy and normal weight employees [1]. A greater number of healthy people also automatically translate into millions of euros saved by governments and insurance companies all over the world. Overweight and obese people are known to have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases and the achievement of even a modest BMI reduction in a population has the potential to make a significant impact on the overall burden of chronic disease [2]. Also, a healthy lifestyle can effectively reduce the risk of developing chronic disease among normal weight people. Normal weight subjects having metabolic problems (such as high glycaemia, high blood lipids, etc.) can even have a higher mortality risk than obese people with no metabolic problems [3].

I know what many of you are thinking. Going to work every day and spending most of the day there, having kids to pick up before the kindergarten closes and getting home in time to have a quiet dinner instead of gobbling another pre-cooked meal before collapsing into bed is already tough enough. You do not want more hassle at work, I understand that, don’t worry! However, I would like to give you some ideas to improve your health at work without any burden increase, but actually by having a bit more fun together with your colleagues.

Therefore, here is my 3-tier system to improve diet and lifestyle at the workplace and have fun

Book Gianluca Tognon for your next eventTier 1: No more bad food at the cafeteria

Tell your boss that you cannot continue eating that unattractive, tasteless and boring food that is served at the cafeteria every day. Ask him/her to employ a good nutritionist who will prepare healthy and tasty recipes to be served at the cafeteria. Ideally, more choice should be offered when it comes to fruit and vegetables. For instance, salad bars have been used with success in schools to increase consumption of vegetables [4]. Also, it is important to empower all employees to participate in the choice of the food that is served at lunchtime. A survey to identify their dietary preferences is therefore a good start. Another good idea that I have seen in the US, is to ask all employees to propose their favourite home recipes and make a cookery book out of these recipes.

Tier 2: Have fun together

Yes, you got me right, have fun! An example is to organise a monthly social event where all employees are invited for a food (and maybe wine!) tasting of some new foods that will be served at the company or institute cafeteria. Have a look at this blog for some ideas about tasty Italian food for your inspiration. Sporty team building activities are another good idea to spend time outdoors, be active and have fun together with other colleagues. Go skiing together, organise one-day trips during the weekend (in the autumn go to the countryside to pick mushrooms, in the spring go walking on the hills or mountains, etc.). Once a week it is also a good idea to go out and have a half an hour walk with your colleagues. Alternatively, if you have lunch outside the company, choose a place that is further away than the one you usually go for.

Tier 3: Time to compete!

Have you and your colleagues been successful at having healthier food served at your cafeteria and at increasing the average physical activity at your workplace? Then it is time to compete with other colleagues working for other departments or headquarters within the same company or institute you work for. If your employer does regular health checks of his/her employees, those can be used to calculate a score assessing the overall health status within a department or headquarters. Lower BMI, blood pressure and more positive blood tests will all contribute to a higher score. The department or headquarters that gets the highest score wins (of course!) and, why not get an economic incentive at the end of the month! As I said at the beginning of this article, healthy employees are more productive, therefore I think that an incentive system is fully justified in this case.

I hope this article has inspired you to start changing the way that diet and lifestyle are managed at your workplace. For the last 10 years I have researched in the field of health and nutrition and, in parallel, I have coached almost 700 people who have succeeded in changing their diet and lifestyle as well as reduced their weight. I have a database of over 100 healthy recipes and I keep collecting new ones that inspire me. Do not hesitate to contact me if you want me to implement the system described above at your workplace.

[1] Center of Disease Control (CDC): Workplace health programs can increase productivity. Available at:

[2] Kearns K, Dee A, Fitzgerald AP, Doherty E, Perry IJ. Chronic disease burden associated with overweight and obesity in Ireland: the effects of a small BMI reduction at population level. BMC Public Health. 2014 Feb 10;14:143.

[3] Ahima RS, Lazar MA. Physiology. The health risk of obesity–better metrics imperative. Science. 2013 Aug 23;341(6148):856-8.

[4] Slusser WM, Cumberland WG, Browdy BL, Lange L, Neumann C. A school salad bar increases frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption among children living in low-income households. Public Health Nutr. 2007 Dec;10(12):1490-6.

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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About Me

I’m an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. I started MY career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden.

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