Cafeteria Menu Changes Can Keep Health Costs Down

June 5, 2001 ( - Employers can reduce their primary healthcare expenses and improve employee health, thereby increasing productivity, simply by changing the menu at the corporate cafeteria, a new study finds.

The study, supervised by Sears Laboratories and completed in March this year, was conducted at a manufacturing company with 4,000 employees.

The sample was divided into to groups:

  • the first consisting of diabetic and pre-diabetic employees at high risk for cardiovascular disease; and
  • a second group consisting of employees wanting to lose weight.

For six weeks, the two groups were supplied with subsidized breakfasts, lunches and afternoon snacks from the corporate cafeteria, which contained a different mix of proteins and carbohydrates than the usual cafeteria fare.

Results of the study showed that:

  • diabetic patients either reduced or stopped taking their diabetic medications under the supervision of their physicians;
  • although both groups lost significant amounts of body fat, the diabetic group lost the most, averaging 10 lbs of body fat over the period; and
  • employees reported a 13% increase in work-time productivity.

In addition, blood test results showed improvements in glycosylated hemoglobin levels and triglyceride-to-HDL cholesterol ratios, key indicators of the risk factors most strongly associated with future diabetic heart disease complications. The average improvement in the triglyceride-to-HDL cholesterol ratio was 24%.

Healthcare cost per employee is estimated to be approximately $2,000 on average per year, while the typical diabetic employee will cost the employer four times that amount since diabetic patients are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease, along with other health problems. 

In a preliminary financial analysis, it was projected that corporations would achieve a significant cost benefit by feeding their high-risk employees for free rather than simply paying for their diabetes healthcare.
While, the most frequent employee health inquiry is for weight-loss and weight management support, most human resource managers disclose their primary healthcare expenses in the following areas:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • lower back pain, and
  • depression.