Businesses turn to dietitians for advice

If you'd rather hit the vending machine for chips and a soft drink than meet with your accountant or face your production manager, it might be time to call your dietitian.

You read that right. Dietitian.

Or you might want to call in a dietitian if you believe that a healthy work force will lead to greater productivity from a more fit staff and lower health care costs.

Dietitians don't top many lists of key business advisers, but the profession, says Cathy Leman, has begun a move from “hair nets and steam tables to a more visible role in the business world.

“The landscape of what we do has changed, says Leman, a registered dietitian who is president of NutriFit, Inc., Glen Ellyn. “We're not just in hospitals and schools anymore.

The reasons we should care center on overall health issues, which ultimately affect business bottom lines. The business owner, or employee, who heads for the vending machine rather than the meeting room typically does so because of stress. “Employees eat more because of stress, which leads to excess weight, which leads to high blood pressure, Leman says.

“Businesses are really watching costs, admits Tom Jordan, “but every dollar a business spends on wellness equates to three dollars in health care savings.

There's not an immediate dollar trade-off, he says, but throw in the likelihood of less lost time because employees are healthier and “the sum of the wellness parts is greater than the pieces.

Jordan, a registered dietitian, is wellness director at First Health Associates, S.C., an Arlington Heights medical center where specialties range from traditional internal and family medicine to acupuncture and dietetics.

Both Jordan and Leman will present on-site Lunch and Learn sessions to a business' employees. Wellness, with a focus on diet, is the key message.

So is education. With diet and obesity factoring into everything from diabetes to celiac disease to the many cardiovascular issues, “People aren't taking enough personal responsibility for their health, says Christine Palumbo, a Naperville registered dietitian. “Don't blame fast-food restaurants or manufacturers for diet-related health issues, she says.

“Obesity, Jordan says, “is the number one preventable (health) risk factor. Healthcare costs average more than $1,400 per year more for obese individuals, he adds.

The real question for business owners is what, if anything, we should do about what ultimately are employee health-and-lifestyle decisions. Two thoughts:

- Talk with a registered dietitian. You can find one through the Chicago-headquartered American Dietetic Association at (Nutritionists speak much of the same food-and-diet language, but registered dietitians face more rigorous educational and licensing requirements.)

- Talk with your health insurance representative. Wellness programs may lead to insurance cost reductions.

Contact Jim Kendall at

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