Why do we need personalised nutrition in the workplace?

Author: Daniela Segovia-Lizano, Quadram Institute Bioscience

The covid-19 situation affected people’s lives in so many ways, including changing workplace settings for working-from-home environments. This has had an impact on people’s lifestyles, especially dietary habits.

Before the pandemic, people used to spend the greater proportion of a day at the office, which meant one or more meals were consumed outside of the home. For many, bringing homemade meals to work was not feasible due to a lack of time for groceries and/or cooking, convenience, cooking skills, preparation time and facilities at work. This is when canteens in the workplace and nearby restaurants come into play. Millions of people worldwide were eating at their workplace canteens, meaning food service providers were responsible of feeding workers who relied on their menu plans and recipes to satisfy their hunger and consider nutritional requirements.

Overnight, this situation changed and individuals who had purchased their meals at work were forced to eat at home instead. For some, this was an opportunity to (re-)learn how to cook or prepare meals they did not usually have time for. For others, circumstances represented a real challenge and it led to many of them opting to eat ready-meals and/or frozen products, which are usually high in saturated fat, sugars and salt.

 

How did Covid-19 affect people’s dietary habits?

COVIDiet took place in several European countries with the aim to examine and understand dietary changes across their populations due to Covid-19 public health restrictions. An online questionnaire was used to collect anonymised data from participants, such as demographics (age, gender, education, residence, country region, children), consumption habits, and adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet, evaluated using the Mediterranean diet adherence screener (MEDAS; scale range 0-14), as a reference point for a healthy diet.

Main outcomes of these studies were:

  1. Spanish COVIDiet Study1 amongst 7514 participants

Positive changes:

  • Increased intake of fruits, vegetables, and legumes
  • Increased adherence to the Mediterranean diet (MEDAS score: 6.53 ±00)
  • Decreased intake of fast-food, fried-food, red meat, sweet/carbonated beverages
  • Reduced snacking

Negative changes:

  • Decrease in physical activity

 

  1. Lithuanian COVIDiet Study2 amongst 2447 participants

Positive changes:

  • Two-thirds cooked at home more often
  • Decreased intake of sweet/carbonated beverages, fast-food and commercial pastries
  • Small increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet (MEDAS score: 5.13 ±88)

Negative changes:

  • Half reported eating more than usual
  • Almost half increased snacking
  • Increased consumption of homemade pastries and fried foods
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Decrease in physical activity

 

  1. Croatian COVIDiet Study3 amongst 4281 participants

Positive changes:

  • Average adherence to the Mediterranean diet (MEDAS score: 5.85 ±04).
  • Half increased cooking frequency, which was associated with increased intakes of vegetables, legumes, fish, and seafood.

Negative changes:

  • A third decreased physical activity

 

Compared with Spain and Lithuania, most Croatians maintained previous dietary habits during Covid-19 confinement.

 

Workplace and effects on health

Workplace lifestyles have been associated with a combination of sedentary routines, typically sitting in front of a computer or on a production line for long periods and eating fast food (high in fat and sugar contents). Sedentary behaviours and unhealthy eating patterns are linked to weight gain and obesity and hypertension as well as increased risk of non-communicable diseases, i.e., diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Evidence from previous nutritional interventions in the workplace has shown that initiatives targeting dietary behaviours associated with increased fruits and vegetables and fibre, and reduced saturated fats and red meat intake can be effective in improving overall health (4).

The EIT Food-funded Personalised and connected food service providers (PERSFO) aims to help people in the workplace to eat more healthily by connecting the food service provider’s menu with their goals to deliver scientifically validated personalised nutrition advice (via Quisper » Information services for personalised nutrition and lifestyle advice) using behavioural techniques that are acceptable for the individual (e.g. nudging, coaching, directing).

 

How can PERSFO help workers improve dietary habits long-term?

Irrespective of how people’s dietary habits changed during public health restrictions, a tool like PERSFO can be the perfect allied in the return-to-workplace. For those who adopted healthier habits, PERSFO can maintain these by providing recommendations, based on the foods that are available. For those who would like to improve their dietary habits after lockdown, PERSFO can help them achieve their goals and make positive decisions that will -hopefully- turn into long-lasting habits.

 

References:   

  1. Rodríguez-Pérez, C., Molina-Montes, E., Verardo, V., Artacho, R., García-Villanova, B., Guerra-Hernández, E. J., & Ruíz-López, M. D. (2020). Changes in Dietary Behaviours during the COVID-19 Outbreak Confinement in the Spanish COVIDiet Study. Nutrients12(6), 1730. doi:10.3390/nu12061730
  2. Kriaucioniene, V., Bagdonaviciene, L., Rodríguez-Pérez, C., & Petkeviciene, J. (2020). Associations between Changes in Health Behaviours and Body Weight during the COVID-19 Quarantine in Lithuania: The Lithuanian COVIDiet Study. Nutrients12(10), 3119. doi:10.3390/nu12103119
  3. Pfeifer, D., Rešetar, J., Gajdoš Kljusurić, J., Panjkota Krbavčić, I., Vranešić Bender, D., Rodríguez-Pérez, C., Ruíz-López, M. D., & Šatalić, Z. (2021). Cooking at Home and Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet During the COVID-19 Confinement: The Experience From the Croatian COVIDiet Study. Frontiers in nutrition8, 617721. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.617721
  4. Quintiliani, L., Poulsen, S., & Sorensen, G. (2010). Healthy Eating Strategies in the Workplace. International journal of workplace health management3(3), 182–196. https://doi.org/10.1108/17538351011078929

Daniela Segovia-Lizano

Senior Research Scientist

Quadram Institute Bioscience

Tags: PERSFO, personalized nutrition, Quadram Institute Bioscience

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